What’s up with Parkinson’s models?


This post is specific to a paper that just came out in Nature (and other papers that use the same kind of model).

Here it is – the glorious conclusion is that we can help monkey models of Parkinson’s disease (by treating them with human cells differentiated to be like neurons).

But what does it mean to be a monkey that has Parkinson’s?

Well, in this case, it means to be injected with a neurotoxin precursor originally discovered by a grad student in 1976, when he was trying to self-manufacture drugs for a morphine-like high, heated the mixture up a bit too much, and produced something that ultimately made him like a Parkinson’s patient at age 23.

About a decade later, a second epidemic of ‘why are these kids Parkinson’s patients’ led to a puzzling conundrum, until it came out they all took synthetic heroin that – no kidding – police raids and friendly dealers helped track down. That turned out to be contaminated with the neurotoxin precursor.

A guy called Dr. J William Langston figured some of this out, helped publish the results, and a quote from him is below –

“I had almost forgotten this “in press” paper, when, on the day it was published, we were deluged with calls from scientists from all around the world asking where they could get MPTP for research purposes. I was surprised, as we had stated in the introduction of our Science paper, that it was commercially available through Aldrich Chemical. We later learned that the company had sold out of MPTP within hours of the publication. When it did come out again, the price had increased almost 100 fold.”

I’m personally a bit skeptical of these models, but it’s fun to learn how they came about.

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