Peter Reinhardt awarded Animal Welfare Research Prize 2014

Research on stem cells helps avoiding animal research

September 25, 2014

Peter Reinhardt of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster is one of the two winners of the 2014 Animal Welfare Research Award, which honors him for developing a model system that researchers can use to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease. The use of so-called induced pluripotent stem cells can reduce the number of animal experiments. The prize has been awarded by the German Federal Ministry of Health since 1980 and by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture since 2001 for the development of scientific alternative methods to animal research.

iPS cells are already mature cells that have been restored to their original developmental state by special signal substances. They can proliferate almost infinitely and develop again into different cell types. Scientists can therefore grow tissues and organs from the iPS cells and study them in the laboratory. In this way, they can investigate the causes of diseases virtually in the Petri dish. In this way, the iPS cells help to make animal experiments superfluous for some investigations.

Reinhardt has produced iPS cells from skin cells of Parkinson's patients in whom the disease is triggered by a change in the genetic material. These can then be converted, for example, into neurons that secrete the neurotransmitter dopamine and that die off in Parkinson's disease. In this way, Reinhardt was able to observe the processes that lead to the death of the cells in the culture dish and compare them with the processes in iPS cells in which he had specifically corrected the Parkinson's mutation. He found that, among other things, a stress signaling pathway was overactivated in the affected cells. If he reduced the activity of this signaling pathway, the nerve cells survived significantly longer.

In addition, Reinhardt discovered a novel type of nerve progenitor cell that does not rely on expensive additives in the nutrient fluid to proliferate and can be transformed into nerve cells in a significantly shorter time. This discovery could make the generation of neurons in the culture dish more cost-effective and robust. "It has made it possible to systematically screen human neurons for substances that protect the cells from dying," Reinhardt says. Experiments on animals are not necessary for these studies.

Peter Reinhardt has been working at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) since October 2014.


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