Nov 11, 2014 06:38 PM EST
Parkinson's disease is a condition in which part of the brain becomes damaged over many years. Among its symptoms are tremors, slow movement, stiff and inflexible muscles, memory problems, insomnia, depression, and many other physical and psychological symptoms that interfere with the quality of life of those affected by the disease. The disease is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine, and help control mood and movement. There is no known cure yet for the disease, and patients have to rely on brain stimulation and medication to get relief only from symptoms. Good news is, a possible Parkinson's cure could be developed if human trials of it would be successful.
Researchers from Lund University are looking at stem cell transplantation as a means to heal the damaged brain part caused by Parkinson's disease. This was after successfully using the procedure in rats where the researchers were successful in developing transplantable dopamine neurons from stem cells which are said to have the ability to reverse the damage that Parkinson's causes to the brain. This breakthrough may offer hope in the discovery of a treatment for Parkinson's patients.
Reports said Lund University researchers killed dopamine-producing neurons on one side of the rats' to simulate Parkinson's. They then converted human embryonic stem cells into neurons that produced dopamine, which was injected into the rats' brains. They found that the brain damage in rats was reversed.
Malin Parmar, associate professor of developmental and regenerative neurobiology, said: "It's a huge breakthrough in the field [and] a stepping stone towards clinical trials."
For human trials, Pamar said that the next step is to create the same cells for human use, but getting such cells ready for clinical study could take up to 3 years.
There have not yet been any human clinical trials of these stem-cell developed neurons. Malin Parmar, leader of the study, says that this study shows that fully functioning dopamine cells can be produced from stem cells.
A similar process has been tried in a very limited number of patients. It involved healing the brain with the help of brain tissue from aborted fetuses. These trails were discontinued after mixed results, but about 30% of those patients had fetal brain cells that functioned well for more than 2 decades.
This new study could pave the way for clinical trials in humans but there is still need of more research in this field. Though stem cells technology has been the subject of many debates and ethical issues, the said human trial will be using embryonic stem cells which are preferable, as they are easier to get hold of by growing them in the laboratory.
Parkinson's UK said the research "could be a stride towards clinical trials in people with Parkinson's".
Arthur Roach, director of its research and development, said: "This important research is a key step along the way in helping us to understand how stem cells might shape future Parkinson's treatments.There are important potential advantages of these cells over the foetal-derived cells used in past cell transplantation work.This study could be a stride towards clinical trials in people with Parkinson's but there are still many questions that need to be answered before this development can be tested in people with the condition."
Parkinson's is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases. According to Parkinson's Disease Foundation, as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson's disease, with approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease each year. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are also living with Parkinson's disease, who may spend an average of $2,500 a year for medication.