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Scientist Behind Dolly the Sheep, Key to Parkinson's Research, Has Disease Himself

Scientist Behind Dolly the Sheep, Key to Parkinson's Research, Has Disease Himself

Twenty years after making the clone Dolly the Sheep, the most popular sheep outside of Old McDonald’s Farm, Dr. Ian Wilmut revealed in April of this year that he has Parkinson’s disease. This terrible news is actually ironic because Dolly the Sheep helped to pave the way for new research into Parkinson’s.

Dr. Wilmut, the 73-year old Scotland-based professor, made the announcement about his health on World Parkinson’s Day. He said that he had been diagnosed four months prior and would be an active participant in a major research program designed to test out new forms of treatments that are aimed at slowing the disease’s progression.

“Initiatives of this kind are effective not only encase they bring more people together, but because they will include people with different experience and expertise,” Dr. Wilmut wrote in a statement. He was addressing the new Dundee-Edinburgh Parkinson’s Research Initiative. The Dundee-Edinburg Parkinson’s Research Initiative’s objective is to look into the causes of the disease and to adapt new therapies into the scientific discoveries.

“It was from such a rich seedbed that Dolly developed, and we can hope for similar benefits in this project,” he added.

In 1996, Dr. Wilmut and his team of researchers did the impossible: they cloned a sheep. The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh was the birthplace of Dolly. It is the home of the achievement that astounded researchers and the public alike, who both previously believed this was an impossible situation.

Dolly’s birth was also the birth of a whole new understanding in science. Scientists now know that cells from anywhere in a body can act like a newly fertilized egg. This concept completely changed scientific thinking and forced researchers to find new ways to reprogram the adult cells.

In order for Dolly to be created, the scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland used a technique referred to as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCMT for short. With SCNT, DNA found in the nucleus of a regular cell is moved into an enucleated oocyte (aka egg cell), which is usually different from an animal. In Dolly’s case, they got her DNA from the mammary cell of a different sheep. This SNA was implanted into an egg from a third sheep, and this result was implanted in a fourth sheep, where the cells grew until birth. (When they say “it takes a village to raise a child,” they aren’t kidding!)

The result of the SCNT is a being with almost an identical genetic potential that is supplying the nuclear DNA (Sheep one). SCNT is a very powerful and effective way to clone animals. This topic was a hotbed of political debate at the time, causing a rift to grow between the religious and scientific communities.

The earth-shattering findings had allowed for the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) that have a tremendous amount of potential to fix damaged tissues, says the Dundee-Edinburg Parkinson’s Research Initiative.

These particular type of stem cells are currently being employed at the MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh to continue to work on drug-based treatments for Parkinson’s and other diseases. Early clinical trials of iPSCs treatment for Parkinson’s is expected to be held in Japan in 2018, according to the initiative.

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