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Major step in treating Parkinson's with stem cell transformation

By Kev Hedges     Nov 7, 2011 in Health
When brain cells producing dopamine die off it causes tremors, rigidity and restrictive movement. Now scientists in the US have grown new brain cells from stem cells in a major step towards new treatments for Parkinson's disease.
Previous difficulties in transforming stem cells into neurons, which are killed off when Parkinson's disease strikes, have now been resolved. Testing on monkeys has shown the cells not only survived and function normally but begin to reverse the process of poor movement problems. Now the prospect of transplanting freshly grown dopamine-producing cells into human patients to treat the disease has been significantly raised.
Dr Lorenz Studer at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York said, "we did not fully understand the particular signals needed to tell stem cells how to differentiate into the right type of cells, 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."
Parkinsons occurs when the brain cells producing dopamine die off in the substantia nigra, a part of the mid-brain and an important motor centre.
The main treatment for Parkinson's disease patients is drugs that increase dopamine levels. For the past ten years scientists have been trying to grow nerve cells lost in diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's or any other neurodegenerative disease. Experiments on mice where dopamine neurons were created from their stem cells have not had the same success in humans. Dr Studer's paper on the study of dopamine neurons derived from human cells efficiently worked on animal models of Parkinson’s disease, says the transformation of stem cells into brain cells (such as spinal motor-neurons) has been achieved.
There was always a fear in previous experiments like this that tumours would appear when neurons were injected into the substantia nigra. The Guardian reports, dopamine neurons development has not caused any concern over tumour growth. 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 it is possible to transplant nerve cells that work from human stem cells.
Parkinson's disease mostly affects those over 50, but of the 120,000 in the UK that have the condition, five percent are under 40.
More about Stem cells, Parkinsons disease, Brain cells, Alzheimer's
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