Scientists Develop Stem Cell Strategy Against Parkinson’s Without Need for Transplant

Scientists Develop Stem Cell Strategy Against Parkinson’s Without Need for Transplant

Researchers have developed a new “cell-free” approach — one derived from stem cells — that may treat Parkinson’s disease while avoiding the immune system risks of other stem cell therapies, according to two studies conducted by researcher Leo Behie, from the University of Calgary, in Canada, and collaborators in Portugal.

The newly developed technique shows promise for novel therapeutic opportunities in the future.

One of the studies, “Modulation of the Mesenchymal Stem Cell Secretome Using Computer-Controlled Bioreactors: Impact on Neuronal Cell Proliferation, Survival and Differentiation,” was published in the journal Scientific Reports. The other, “Impact of the Secretome of Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells on Brain Structure and Animal Behavior in a Rat Model of Parkinson’s Disease,” was published in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine.

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the loss of certain types of neurons in the brain, which negatively affects neuronal communication and makes the body unable to control movement. There is currently no cure for the disease, but several researchers have investigated the potential benefits of stem cell technology.

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that originate all other cell types in the body, including neurons. Stem cells can be stimulated to become the type of neurons that become affected by Parkinson’s and can potentially be transplanted into the patient’s brain, where they would replace the dying neurons.

But in order to make the person’s immune system accept the transplant, patients must take powerful immunosuppressants that leave their bodies susceptible to other diseases.

Behie and the other two leading authors of the studies, António Salgado and Nuno Sousa, developed a new approach that shows potential as a treatment for Parkinson’s and other diseases affecting the nervous system — but does not require a stem cell transplant.

The scientists used computer-controlled bioreactors to arrive at a therapeutic mixture drawn from human stem cells called mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in bone marrow. The mixture, a cultured version of the cells’ secretome, was then injected into the brains of a rat model of Parkinson’s, specifically into the striatum and substantia nigra midbrain area, and seen to aid motor recovery in the rats. (The first study described the process by which the secretome mixture was arrived at and cultured; the second details the animal experiment.)

“We observed that the secretome potentiated the increase of dopaminergic neurons (i.e., tyrosine hydroxylase-positive cells) and neuronal terminals in the SNc [substantia nigra] and STR [striatum], respectively, thereby supporting the recovery observed in the Parkinsonian rats’ motor performance outcomes (assessed by rotarod and staircase tests),” the researchers wrote in the Stem Cells article.

“When the secretome is introduced into the [Parkinson’s] brain, there is a powerful result,” Behie said in a news release. “We were able to show that the injured brains regenerated new neurons.”

Together, the results raise the possibility of a stem cell-based but cell-free treatment for Parkinson’s, with no need for transplants or to suppress the immune system.

The research team is now working with neurosurgeons to bring the therapy into the clinic, Behie said.

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Joana brings more than 8 years of academic research and experience as well as Scientific writing and editing to her role as a Science and Research writer. She also served as a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology in Coimbra, Portugal, where she also received her PhD in Health Science and Technologies, with a specialty in Molecular and Cellular Biology.


  1. Jen says:

    I didn’t understand the difference between implanted and transplanted in this article. Can someone please explain? How long before such treatments might be available? Do they restore the dopamine in people already showing some loss of executive function?

  2. Julie Collins says:

    PLEASE provide more info as per clinical trial opportunities, human testing, etc. I’m sure I speak for all or at least most Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones that this is potentially life extending news that we have all been praying for!

    • Tim Bossie says:

      We try to deliver the most relevant and timely information on clinical trials and testings when we hear about them. We will continue to deliver these as we hear about them so that patients can get the news they need.

          • Carol Kraker says:

            I understand you located in Canada,great fishing up there. I used to go every year on opening day with my father and brother. My brother has not missed an opening day in 42 years. Well, enough of going down memory lane. I m writing to you regard stem cell research for Parkinson patients. That would be me. Im 62 and did marathons until my gait was getting pretty bad and then I had to give it up for walking. Its amazing though how if I break into a slow jog, I have no problems with my foot turning in. I was clinically diagnosed in 2012, but noticed problems as far back as early 2011. From there things got worse and I made an appointment with my GP, who referred me to a Nero. at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ. So I guess you could say I was given the news of Parkinsons in 2012. I understand you have a study going on with Stem Cells and I would be very interested in this Study. I have the blessings of my entire family near and far to travel to Canada for the study. According Law, I will have to return every three months to the US, but they do have a Visa I can apply for. This visa would allow me to spend a longer amount of time in Canada.
            I do have tremors or any type of shakiness, I do well on C/L, but it wears off before the next dose. So we have added a Neupro patch 4mg. daily. This helps somewhat, but not long enough. They tried to use Rytary, but the hallucinations were overwhelming. I checked with a company in California does stem cells called StemGenex Medical Group, seems they wanted $15,000 and could cure anything. It was not right for me, if you know what Im saying.
            I hope to hear back from you if you would accept US Citizens into any of your studies. If it does not help me, Im hoping someday it will become a cure for Parkinsons. Thank you for your time

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