A new “promising approach” to Parkinson’s disease treatment?


Author: Scarlett SherriffPublished: 15 December 2022

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Stem cells

Trials will soon be underway for a potentially groundbreaking new Parkinson’s treatment developed by a team of researchers in Sweden and the UK

In stem cell transplants, patients receive healthy cells designed to replace those damaged by disease. The question scientists are asking is: could this transplant method be used for people with Parkinson’s?

A group of researchers from Lund University, Sweden, and the University of Cambridge, UK, are investigating a potential Parkinson’s treatment that will involve the use of tissue transplants. Launching over the coming months, the first trial will involve participants living with the condition, including some from the UK.

Professor Roger Barker, a member of the Cambridge research team, told ‘The Guardian’: “It has taken a long time to get to this stage, but hopefully, results from these trials will mean that, in a few years, we might be able to offer tissue transplants as standard treatments for Parkinson’s. It is certainly a promising approach.”

How does it work?

The treatment will involve stem cells that can be transformed into dopamine, a chemical lost in Parkinson’s that plays a crucial role in helping people to move.

To circumvent some of the usual challenges associated with sourcing stem cells, including practical issues related to supply, the researchers have developed technology enabling the cells to be grown in lab cultures. They are said to have been created under “good manufacturing practice” at the Royal Free Hospital in London, UK.

Furthermore, the researchers have been able to programme these cells to develop into dopamine nerve cells that will be transplanted into the brains of those living with the condition.

“We now know that putting dopamine cells in the brain will work and the procedure is safe. There is no longer a problem about supply of sufficient tissue because we can manufacture these cells in large numbers in the laboratory,” said Professor Barker.

“That means that we are now at a point where we can use stem cell transplants as treatments for Parkinson’s patients, though it will take several years before we will know that these work and can be used as standard treatments for Parkinson’s disease.”

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