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Front Cell Neurosci. 2013 Mar 27;7:29. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2013.00029. eCollection 2013.

Patient-derived stem cells: pathways to drug discovery for brain diseases.

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National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research, Eskitis Institute for Cell and Molecular Therapies, Griffith University Brisbane, QLD, Australia.


The concept of drug discovery through stem cell biology is based on technological developments whose genesis is now coincident. The first is automated cell microscopy with concurrent advances in image acquisition and analysis, known as high content screening (HCS). The second is patient-derived stem cells for modeling the cell biology of brain diseases. HCS has developed from the requirements of the pharmaceutical industry for high throughput assays to screen thousands of chemical compounds in the search for new drugs. HCS combines new fluorescent probes with automated microscopy and computational power to quantify the effects of compounds on cell functions. Stem cell biology has advanced greatly since the discovery of genetic reprograming of somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). There is now a rush of papers describing their generation from patients with various diseases of the nervous system. Although the majority of these have been genetic diseases, iPSCs have been generated from patients with complex diseases (schizophrenia and sporadic Parkinson's disease). Some genetic diseases are also modeled in embryonic stem cells (ESCs) generated from blastocysts rejected during in vitro fertilization. Neural stem cells have been isolated from post-mortem brain of Alzheimer's patients and neural stem cells generated from biopsies of the olfactory organ of patients is another approach. These "olfactory neurosphere-derived" cells demonstrate robust disease-specific phenotypes in patients with schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease. HCS is already in use to find small molecules for the generation and differentiation of ESCs and iPSCs. The challenges for using stem cells for drug discovery are to develop robust stem cell culture methods that meet the rigorous requirements for repeatable, consistent quantities of defined cell types at the industrial scale necessary for HCS.


embryonic stem cells; high content screening; induced pluripotent stem cells; olfactory neurosphere-derived cells; olfactory stem cells

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