Clemson Research on Parkinson's Disease Recognized

DATE: 10-24-06

CONTACT: Xuejun Wen, (843) 792-5875 (off.), (843) 792-5832 (lab)
e-mail: [email protected]

Holly Barkhymer, (212) 509-0995, ext. 242
Michael J. Fox Foundation
e-mail: [email protected]

WRITER: Susan Polowczuk, (864) 656-2063
e-mail: [email protected]

CLEMSON - The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research is providing monetary support to a Clemson University researcher's quest for a cure for Parkinson's disease using novel bioengineering technology in combination with dopamine neurons derived from human stem cells.

Clemson bioengineering professor Xuejun Wen, who works at the Charleston branch of the Clemson bioengineering department with the Clemson University-Medical University of South Carolina (CU-MUSC) Bioengineering Program, has been looking at ways to manipulate the microenvironment of the brain to improve the long-term life of transplanted healthy, human dopamine-producing neurons. The foundation has provided $125,000 in supplemental funding to advance the promise of Wen's work for future clinical research.

"The foundation will continue to support for another year my translational research (the phase of taking discoveries into new treatment) in finding a cure for Parkinson's disease. If it shows favorable results, this could be a very positive step toward better treatments for this debilitating disease," Wen said.

In 2005, Wen received foundation funding to study how to improve survival of transplanted human stem cell-derived dopamine neurons for the development of a treatment for Parkinson's disease. In rats, he found that cells transplanted into the brain survive significantly better than traditional delivery methods when implanted with a special device that protects the delicate cells from attack by the host environment. Also, the integration of the transplanted cells with the brain circuitry is greatly improved using the device. The human stem cells are derived from various sources, including bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and NIH-approved embryonic stem cells.

Wen's lab at the CU-MUSC Bioengineering Program specializes in inducing human stem cells into different types of cells aimed at curing diseases and injuries such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart and brain strokes and spinal cord injuries. He will share the latest award of $125,000 with Su-Chun Zhang, assistant professor of anatomy and neurology at the University of Wisconsin.

Parkinson's is linked to a depletion of the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine, which carries messages between brain cells that are key to muscle control. Loss of muscle control is a symptom of the disease that afflicts one million people in the United States, with 50,000 new cases reported each year.

Bioengineering, sometimes termed biomedical engineering, involves the application of science, mathematics and engineering principles to biomedical systems. A key goal of bioengineers is to develop devices, processes and biotechnologies to improve medical practice and healthcare delivery.

Clemson's bioengineering program began in 1963 with a Ph.D. program. A master's degree program was added in 1966 and an undergraduate program was added in 2006. Clemson has formed a strategic partnership with MUSC and the Greenville Hospital System in recent years.

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