Key to Effective Parkinson’s Treatment May Lie in Stem Cells, Researchers Say

Key to Effective Parkinson’s Treatment May Lie in Stem Cells, Researchers Say

One of the most promising therapeutic avenues for Parkinson’s disease is the use of stem cells to replace dopamine-producing neurons, the loss of which is a hallmark of the disease.

This is the focus of a special issue on Parkinson’s disease published in the journal Stem Cells and Development available for free download until Aug. 24.

“The understandable excitement generated by recent successful phase 1 clinical trials in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is tempered with worldwide concern for the safe translation of stem cell research to an effective treatment for this terrible disease and other neurological conditions,” Graham C. Parker, PhD, editor-in-chief of the journal, said in a press release. “The research in this special issue reflects the responsible advancement of cell therapy for PD.”

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disorder, caused by the gradual loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra, a region of the brain responsible for movement control.

Current standard therapies for Parkinson’s disease often focus on restoring dopamine signaling in the brain to reduce the severity of symptoms and improve patients’ quality of life. However, these treatments do not cure the disease.

The most promising therapeutic approach to truly reverse Parkinson’s progression involves replacing these dopamine-producing neurons that have been lost over the course of the disease. Two articles in the special issue explore this new route, pointing out its advantages and practical challenges.

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The first article, “Autologous Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-Derived Neurons to Treat Parkinson’s Disease,” written by Jeanne F. Loring, PhD, from the Scripps Research Institute in California, discusses the use of patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to treat Parkinson’s disease, and upcoming clinical trials to test this method.

These iPSCs are fully matured cells that researchers are able to reprogram in vitro to revert them back to a stem cell state, where they are able to grow into any type of cell, including dopaminergic neurons.

“It is a personalized therapy, in which we generate iPSCs from each patient and will transplant immunologically matched neurons. This means that there are no costs or potential side effects from giving the patients immunosuppressive drugs,” Loring wrote.

The biggest downside to this technology is its cost, which is still fairly high, but Loring says the economic burden would not be higher in comparison with other personalized cell therapies, such as CAR-T cell therapies — priced at roughly $500,000.

“We hope to begin a clinical trial by the end of next year, 2019, and our current efforts are focused on producing data for regulatory agencies that will assure them of the safety and efficacy of the autologous [patient-specific] dopamine neurons. If we are successful, the restoration of health to people living with PD will be priceless,” she said.

The second article, “Novel Approach to Stem Cell Therapy in Parkinson’s Disease,” written by Russell Kern, PhD, of the International Stem Cell Corporation in California, and colleagues, focuses on an alternative approach to stem cell therapy.

Instead of using iPSCs to generate patient-specific neurons, they propose using parthenogenetic-derived neural stem cells — stem cells obtained by chemical manipulations in unfertilized human oocytes, an immature egg cell, which are also able to grow into neurons.

The major advantages of this approach include avoiding ethical concerns since no fetus or viable embryo is used in their derivation (which is also the case with iPSCs), the reduced number of possible mutations in comparison with iPSCs, and also their low immunogenicity, which is the ability of a particular substance to trigger an immune response.

The authors are confident this alternative technique will be beneficial for the treatment of Parkinson’s patients, pointing to promising evidence in preclinical studies that supported a first human Phase 1 clinical trial (NCT02452723) evaluating the safety of a pluripotent stem cell-based treatment in Parkinson’s patients already underway.

“Our therapeutic approach is not only based on cell replacement but also on neuroprotection, neurotrophic support, and immunomodulation and has the potential to rescue the nigrostriatal and extranigral [dopaminergic] systems and significantly improve motor and cognitive functions, as well as quality of life, offering hope to patients worldwide suffering from this devastating disease,” they wrote.

14 comments

  1. Saeid salimi says:

    Hi there,

    This is an amazing news:)
    Is there anyway we can register to participate in this trial?
    My father in law has Parkinson and willing to participate in this trial.
    I am looking forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you,
    Saeid

    • Joana Carvalho says:

      Hi Saeid,
      Yes, that’s true 🙂
      I am not sure if patients are still being recruited to participate in this trial, but there are some criteria you need to meet in order to be eligible.
      You can check those details here to see if there is any excluding criteria that would not allow your father in law to participate:
      https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02452723?term=NCT02452723#eligibility
      In any case, I would also recommend you to get in touch with the researchers conducting the trial to be sure he can still register to participate in the trial.
      You can find their contact information here:
      https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02452723?term=NCT02452723#contacts
      Wish you and your family all the best. Good luck! 🙂

      • Joana- everyone should remember that clinicaltrials.gov does not verify the postings. This means that studies do not need to be regulated clinical trials in order to be listed on the website. The site has a disclaimer that says: “Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government”. Anyone can post to the site and many entities use clinicaltrials.gov as a marketing tool. I wish this weren’t true.

        • Joana Carvalho says:

          Hi Jeanne,
          That is something I personally did not know about. So, one should actually take the information from clinicaltrials.gov with a grain of salt. It is unfortunate indeed, I also wish it would not work that way.
          Thanks for reading and for pointing that out.

  2. Joana: It’s unfortunate, but everyone should know that the clinicaltrials.gov site is not verified by any agency. After scientists and ethicists pointed that out there is now a disclaimer on the site that says: “Listing a study does not mean it has been evaluated by the U.S. Federal Government”. Many of the “clinical trials” listed are actually used as marketing tools for unscrupulous clinics (aka “bad actors”).

  3. Aaron Ettienne says:

    This is great news. It may very well be the first stepping stone to breakthroughs not only in the field of neurology but other fields where stem cell research and advancements would be of great benefit. It surely helps the cause by eliminating ethical concerns. The price however may be quite a deterrent for individuals who cannot afford to put out exuberant sums of money but to anything there is a cost to be paid and if that is the cost of one’s physical well-being then it’s a price many would be willing to pay.

  4. Danesia John says:

    This article is very interesting, as the possibilities stem cells create on the body is amazing. Stem cell research is becoming more popular as it possible to cure or control incurable diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Diabetes, certain cancers such as Leukaemia and regenerate new skin cells from patients with burns. Although, there are arguments for creating stem cells for the use of medicinal purposes I am excited to see the results of stem cells in the future as it still needs to be improved in order to fully cure these diseases. However, I am happy that patients with these diseases can have a better chance at a full life as their symptoms can be reduced.

  5. Odika Ramkissoon says:

    Prior to reading and researching about stem cells, I was totally against this new venture in medicine. I believed that it is an unethical procedure and unethical to be researching this and it should not be done. However, upon reading this information, I must admit that I am pleasantly surprised at how much we have evolved. It is amazing to know that we now have the resources to cure and control diseases that was once deemed incurable. I still believe the ethical part of it but now I am baffled and stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to stem cells. it is wonderful to know that a family member can be cured and live longer than before but it is also sad to that egg, that fertilized egg which we call that embryo who cannot live to its full potential of becoming a fully developed human. I am both for and against using embryonic stem cells for medicinal purposes.

  6. Tshai-Ann Lopez says:

    This article opened my mind on the benefits of using stem cell research as prior to reading this article I was very narrow minded as I believe embryonic stem cells are potential life. Why destroy human life to save human life was a question I always pondered upon. Prior to reading this article, I placed a lot of concern upon the embryonic stem cell, consequences of using this method of research and the negative impacts of this procedure on potential life. However, after reading this article, I became more open minded to the procedure and how it is evolving to cure currently incurable diseases for example Parkinson’s disease and Diabetes which can create a better future for my children and the generations to come. I’m happy that persons with these diseases, as the procedure evolves may have an increased lifespan and improved quality of life.

  7. Tshai-Ann Lopez says:

    This article opened my mind to the procedure of using stem cells as prior to reading this I was very narrow minded as I placed a lot of concern on embryonic stem cells, believing that they are potential life. I often pondered, why destroy human life to save human life? I took into consideration the negative impact as a result of the research and the consequences as a result of the same said research on these embryonic stem cells. However, after reading this article, I became more open minded to this procedure as it is evolving to fully cure these incurable diseases for example Parkinson’s disease and Diabetes, where patients suffering from these diseases may have a longer lifespan and an increased quality of life. Also, once a cure is found , this would create a brighter and better future for my children and the generations to come.

    • De Avion Daniel says:

      This article highlights that medical application of stem cells today and its vast benefits. It is great to know that diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s are being researched and tested to find better means of treatment and cures. My only concern is the high cost attached to its use but I hope in the near future this could become more affordable.I hope that a greater amount of individuals can become more aware of the benefit of stem cells. Moreover, I am glad to know that the use of stem cells can allow for an improved quality of life and can control the symptoms of those that require it. I believe that stem cells will be the answer to a lot of our aliments.

  8. De Avion Daniel says:

    This article highlights the medical application of stem cells today and its vast benefits. It is great to know that disease like diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s are currently being researched and tested to find better means of treatment and cures. My only concern is the high cost attached to its use. I hope, in the near future, this price can become more affordable and that more individuals understand the benefit of stem cells. I am glad to know that this research can give these individuals an improved quality of life, controlling their illness. Stem cells will surely become the answer to a lot of our aliments in the near future.

  9. De Avion Daniel says:

    This article highlights that medical application of stem cells today and its vast benefits. It is great to know that diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s are being researched and tested to find better means of treatment and cures. My only concern is the high cost attached to its use but I hope in the near future this could become more affordable.I hope that a greater amount of individuals can become more aware of the benefit of stem cells. Moreover, I am glad to know that the use of stem cells can allow for an improved quality of life and can control the symptoms of those that require it. I believe that stem cells will be the answer to a lot of our aliments.

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