CRN Projects

Nanomaterials for Cell-based Therapies in Parkinson's Disease

Principal Investigator:
Samuel I. Stupp
Neural stem cells (green, nestin staining) derived from the ventral midbrain region are in the process of undergoing astrocytic differentiation (red, GFAP staining) with many at an intermediate stage.
Image: Shantanu Sur

Parkinson's disease (PD) is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease with approximately one million people suffering from the ailment in the United States. PD results from the progressive loss of dopaminergic (DA) neurons from a region of the brain called the substantia nigra, leading to motor and cognitive impairment and severely disrupting the quality of life. It has long been believed that the damage is irreversible, and that the only practical form of treatment lies in symptomatic relief via maintenance of dopamine levels in the striatum, the region of the brain affected most from the DA neuron loss, through external administration.

Catalyst Project researchers Faifan Tantakitti (left), PhD candidate, Shantanu Sur, postdoctoral fellow, and Principal Investigator Samuel Stupp.However, exciting new developments in Parkinson’s research show great promise. One encouraging approach aims to permanently replenish dopamine in the striatum by implanting functional DA neurons derived from stem cells. However, major obstacles in implementing such a strategy include the high degree of cell loss that occurs during transplantation and the risk of tumor development from undifferentiated stem cells (since a large proportion of implanted cells fail to differentiate into neurons).

In this CRN Catalyst Project, the Stupp lab aims to develop an artificial extracellular matrix composed of peptide amphiphile (PA) nanofibers. The extracellular matrix will be tailored with appropriate biophysical properties and biochemical cues to promote efficient differentiation and maturation of the transplanted cells. In addition, the PA matrix will encapsulate the cells, providing physical support during the implantation process and thus reducing cell death from injury. The newly designed materials will first be tested in vitro using neuron and stem cell culture, followed by experiments in vivo using a mouse model of PD.

Principal Investigator

Samuel I. Stupp

Materials Science & Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science
Chemistry, Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences
Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine

CRN catalyzes new research in regenerative medicine using nanotechnology strategies.