The article “Growth factors and feeder cells promote differentiation of human embryonic stem cells into dopaminergic neurons: a novel role for fibroblast growth factor-20”, authored by Correia, Anisimov, Li and Brundin, and published in the July 2008 issue of Frontiers in Neuroscience, communicates the authors’ research into how dopaminergic neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) can have their survival ameliorated. The context for this research is the use of hESCs as a source for dopaminergic neurons, the latter which are used to treat Parkinson’s disease. The authors note research into this approach has numerous obstacles to overcome, such as low survival rates of dopaminergic neurons derived from hESC. The authors utilized fibroblast growth factor (FGF)-20 to improve survival. Experimentation was carried on PA6 house stromal cells. The research indicated that this approach improved cell survival, such that the authors suggest this methodology can have a benefit for hESC therapeutic treatments of Parkinson’s disease.

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The article itself brings together a large topic of themes in contemporary neuroscience. For example, the article is motivated by the pragmatic possibilities of neuroscience, in so far as neuroscience may be utilized for therapeutic treatments of Parkinson’s disease. Furthermore, the article emphasizes the relationship between human embryonic stem cell research and neuroscience. The approach to use hESCs as a source for dopaminergic neurons suggests the therapeutic advantages that are often associated with hESCs in the context of neuroscience. At the same time, the research is motivated by some of the overt contemporary limitations of this approach. The authors’ studies were namely motivated by the fact that dopamingergic neurons produced from hESCS were susceptible to low survival rates and cell death. This indicates that one of the most pressing problems in contemporary neuroscience from the perspective of treatment and therapy is how to effectively use the potential of hESCs to address neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

The strength of the article is arguably in the rigour of its methodological approach. Namely, the research conducted by the authors’ builds upon already existing research and treatment practices. Hence, at the outset of the article, the authors note that Parkinson’s disease is “considered a suitable disease for cell replacement-based therapy.” (Correia et al., 2008, p. 26) This prompts the main research question of the article: how to develop a more effective cell replacement-based therapy. The authors’ suggest that an “ideal source of cell material should be available in large quantities in a predictable manner”, (Correia et al., 2008, p. 27) which leads them to conclude that hESCs satisfy this condition. Using existing research on how hESCs “can generate dopaminergic neurons in culture”, the article communicates how the author’s research led them to investigate improved hESCs. There is a clear logical chain of reasoning to their approach.

At the same time, gaps can be identified in the article. For example, the effectiveness of the decision to treat Parkinson’s disease with cell-replacement therapy is still debatable. As the authors note, “not all patients have improved after transplanted with embryonic mesencephalic tissue and subsets of patients have developed troubling dyskinesias.” (Correia et al., 2008, p. 26) The authors do suggest that this is a reason why hESCs are preferable, however, the question remains as to whether there are still other available options. A review of the literature on the preference for hESCs would thus make the article more scientifically accurate, insofar as it would better emphasize the decision of the authors’ to pursue this line of research. Furthermore, although the researchers’ conclusions that hESC derived dopamingergic neurons survival can be improved through FGF-20, the authors’ themselves acknowledge that further research is needed, in particular with regard to the “trophic effect of FGF-20 in the implanted cells.” (Correia et al., 2008, p. 33) Namely, although the research is promising to the extent that it appears the authors’ have increased the cell survival, the therapeutic value of this approach still has to be fully determined.

  • Correira, Ana Sofia, Anisimov, Sergey V., Li, Jia-Yi and Brundin, Patrik. (2008). Growth
    factors and feeder cells promote differentiation of human embryonic stem cells into
    dopaminergic neurons: a novel role for fibroblast growth factor-20. Frontiers in
    Neuroscience, Volume 2, Issue 1. pp. 26-34.