The Fertility Show, Manchester Central, 24-25 March 2018
Page URL:

Human embryonic stem cells can treat Parkinson's in rats

14 November 2011
Appeared in BioNews 633

Human embryonic stem cells have been used to treat a model of Parkinson's disease in mice, rats and monkeys, pointing to a possible new way of treating the condition.

Researchers from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York as well as other US institutions used stem cells to create dopamine neurons which have similar characteristics to brain cells affected by Parkinson's disease. The researchers then introduced these new cells to the animals' brains.

The animals survived the procedure and the researchers observed a reversal of tremors and reduced erratic movements in mice and rats. The scientists then treated two monkeys that had been given Parkinson's-like lesions and were able to successfully graft neurons into their brains, demonstrating the possibility of scaling up the technique.

Dr Lorenz Studer, one of the study's leading researchers said: 'Previously we did not fully understand the particular signals needed to tell stem cells how to differentiate into the right type of cells. The cells we produced in the past would produce some dopamine but in fact were not quite the right type of cell, so there were limited improvements in the animals. Now we know how to do it right, which is promising for future clinical use'.

In addition to reversing the movement problems associated with Parkinson's, the study, published in Nature, showed that no cancer or uncontrolled cell growth was observed after the cells had been grafted onto the animals, which are two major concerns in stem cell therapy.

Dr Studer and colleagues are now planning to create the new cells on a larger scale over a 12-month period and hope to perform the technique on around 100 patients after thorough safety testing. Regarding human trials Dr Studer said: 'We now have the right cells, but to put them into humans requires them to be produced in a specialised facility rather than a laboratory, for safety reasons. We have removed the main biological bottleneck and now it's an engineering problem'.

Although the findings of this study are promising, more work is required before stem cells can be used to treat Parkinson's in humans as the human brain is much more complex than those of the animals tested. It remains to be seen how the use of stem cells demonstrated in this study might affect higher functions such as speech or complex memory.

Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at Parkinson's UK said: 'Stem cell therapy may still be some way off. However, this study has shown for the first time that is possible to transplant nerve cells that work from human stem cells'.

Around 120,000 people have Parkinson's disease in the UK. While the disease mostly affects people over the age of 50, one in 20 of those affected by it is under the age of 40.

7 January 2013 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Immune cells that can recognise and kill cancer cells have been grown from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)...
8 May 2012 - by Dr Greg Ball 
Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) are primed to self destruct in response to DNA damage in the developing embryo, scientists have reported. The research found that hESCs are highly responsive to DNA damage in the early stages of development, and can commit suicide for the greater good...
13 February 2012 - by George Frodsham 
Human brain cells with Parkinson's disease have been successfully grown in a Petri dish, allowing researchers to study them in unprecedented detail. Researchers used a technique in which skin cells are transformed into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can then be made to change into any cell type – in this case, neurons...
5 December 2011 - by George Frodsham 
Two separate studies have successfully transplanted neurons into the brains of mice. The transplanted neurons are able to send and receive electrical impulses, and can be used to compensate for faulty brain cells, restoring normal function. Both studies sourced the transplanted neurons from embryos – mouse embryos in one case, human embryonic stem cells were used in the other...
30 August 2011 - by Victoria Kay 
UK scientists have, for the first time, generated live nerve cells from a patient with a rapidly progressing form of Parkinson's disease...
18 July 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
US researchers have successfully converted human skin cells directly into brain nerve cells, skipping an intermediate stem cell stage. The new technique has the potential to aid research into neurodegenerative disorders of the brain, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's....
28 March 2011 - by Alison Cranage 
For the first time, gene therapy has shown promise for people with severe Parkinson's disease. Results from a proof of concept clinical trial in the US were published in the journal Lancet Neurology...
7 February 2011 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Scientists have linked five more gene variants to the risk of developing Parkinson's disease...
23 August 2010 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Genetic defects in the immune system may be associated with Parkinson's disease, according to a recent study published in Nature Genetics. The genome wide association study (GWAS) is the first to link mutations in a gene in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) region, which is known to be involved in immunity, to Parkinson's...
Log in to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.