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A possible breakthrough in treating Parkinson’s disease using non-embryonic stem cells

by | Mar 5, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

Source: Penelope J. Hallett/Harvard GazetteHarvard

Source: Penelope J. Hallett/Harvard GazetteHarvard

On Tuesday we wrote about some remarkable progress made in the fight against MS using adult stem cells.

In a nutshell, as David Prentice, Ph.D., explained to NRL News Today, the team at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, England, had harvested and purified some of the patient’s bone marrow adult stem cells, then used chemotherapy to kill the rogue immune cells that are causing the autoimmune problem of multiple sclerosis, followed by a re-infusion of the patient’s adult stem cells. The patient’s adult stem cells “reboot” their immune and blood system, and also seem to facilitate some repair of the nervous system.

More good news today—“Possible Progress Against Parkinson’s”—according to a story that appeared in the Harvard Gazette. As was the case in the MS research, embryonic stem cells were not used.

Generally speaking, Parkinson’s is caused by a depletion of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.

The disease causes a range of symptoms, B.D. Colen explains in his story, “from mild tremors to dementia and death, and can include slowed movements, muscle rigidity, tremors, changes in speech, loss of autonomic movement, and related issues.” As many as one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s

From Colen we learn about the work of Harvard Stem Cell Institute researchers at the University-affiliated McLean Hospital where

Ole Isacson and colleagues reported that dopamine-producing neurons derived from the skin cells of primates survived for more than two years after implantation into one of the animals. Isacson noted that the animal was “able to move as fast around its home cage” as an one without Parkinson’s, and had normal agility, though individual motions were still slowed by the disease.

In an interview with NRL News Today, Prentice, Vice President and Research Director, Charlotte Lozier Institute, explained that Parkinson’s disease has long been targeted for treatment with stem cells.

A number of other therapies have been tried—including the highly objectionable transplant of fetal brain tissue (a total disaster) and attempts to harvest embryonic stem cells, a technique which “over a decade of animal experiments has produced little more than tumors in the animal subjects,” Prentice noted.

What the Harvard scientists did was ethically unobjectionable—they used induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which we have written about many times at NRL News and NRL News Today.  According to Prentice

The iPS cells have similar flexibility to embryonic stem cells, but are made without destruction of embryos, and without use of eggs or cloning techniques; they are made from skin cells or other common tissue, as was done by the Harvard scientists.  Monkeys with Parkinson’s symptoms received injections of iPS cell-derived neural cells, and over a two-year period showed functional improvement of their symptoms; one monkey appeared to recover normal activity.  Further work will be needed to check for long-term safety with these cells, of course. 

By the same token, Prentice reminded me that “Adult stem cells taken from normal tissue still remain the gold standard for patient treatment.” Adult stem cells are isolated from many different tissues, including bone marrow, blood, muscle, fat, and umbilical cord blood. They have been helping patients around the world for years.

Categories: Adult Stem Cells