Stem cell therapy may cure Parkinson's disease

Researchers used stem cells from human embryos to successfully treat Parkinson's disease in mice and rats. This is a key step in finding similar treatments for humans.

In a study published on this sunday in the scientific journal Nature, scientists described the process of swapping human embryonic stem cells for neurons that produce the brain chemical dopamine. When the cells were transplanted into the brains of rats and mice, they released dopamine, and the Parkinson's symptoms disappeared. The cells were also successfully transplanted into the brains of rhesus monkeys, which are more biologically similar to humans.

“we think it's very likely that this approach will lead to real cell therapies that can cure diseases in humans,” said lead author Lorenz Studer. “ We now face more engineering problems than scientific obstacles.” Studer is a stem cell biologist at the sloan-kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York.

Nerve cells use dopamine to help control muscle movements. In Parkinson's disease that has no cure, the brain's dopamine-producing cells are slowly destroyed. This affects the brain's ability to send messages, leading to impaired muscle function, reduced movement and shaking. So far, medicines that increase the amount of dopamine in the brain and control Parkinson's symptoms can cause side effects such as involuntary movements. And with the aggravation of the disease, the effect of the medicine will gradually weaken.

Some scientists are experimenting with cell transplants. They used stem cells taken from mouse embryos to turn into dopamine-producing cells to treat animals with Parkinson's disease. But until now, treating mice with human embryonic stem cells in a similar way has not worked well. Not only do human-derived dopamine cells fail to function effectively when transplanted into animals, but they also trigger the growth of tumor-like structures that are not something we hope to see.
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