Despite massive global efforts, Parkinson’s disease continues to defy a cure. The best patients can hope for currently is relief from its crippling symptoms with drugs and brain stimulation. There is, however, some good news pointing to a possible cure involving transplantation of stem cells to repair damaged brain parts.
Already researchers at Lund University have succeeded in developing transplantable dopamine neurons from stem cells which are believed to be capable of reversing damage caused to the brain by Parkinson’s by using the procedure in mice. The researchers first killed neurons that make dopamine on one side of the rats’ brains simulating Parkinson’s and then injected into them human embryonic stem cells that produce dopamine. Result: They succeeded in reversing the damaged caused to their brain.
Malin Parmar, associate professor of developmental and regenerative neurobiology, described the development as a “A huge breakthrough in the field and a stepping stone towards clinical trials.” To move to this next level the scientists will the same cells for human use. This could take up to three years.
Parmar, who led the study, says that their work shows that fully functioning dopamine cells can be produced from stem cells.
Stem cells technologies have been subject to many debates largely centered on ethical issues, the proposed human trial aims to use embryonic stem cells as they are easier to grow and harvest in laboratory conditions. Parkinson’s UK said the research “could be a stride towards clinical trials in people with Parkinson’s“.
Said Arthur Roach, director of its research and development, “This is an important breakthrough in the direction of understanding how stem cells might shape future Parkinson’s treatments. The potential advantages of these cells over the foetal cells used in the past are several. This study could result in clinical trials among Parkinson’s patients but there are still many questions that need to be answered for that to happen.”