Could Stem Cells Cure Parkinson's?

Although debate rages on about their ethical use, stem cells have been shown to once again have incredible benefits for the recuperation of lost cellular tissue.

A group of researches have successfully recreated motor nerve cells that are breathtakingly similar to those of a fetus, reported medical journal Cell Stem Cell. Such fetal motor nerves are what currently has to be used in the treatment of Parkinson's and some other degenerative nerve disease. The production of dopamine is severally reduced during Parkinson's disease, which is why is it goes hand-and-hand with the symptoms of torpid movement and lack of dexterity -- these muscle nerves literally stop being able to produce the chemical as they deteriorate.

Researchers state that their recent tests with rats have produced extremely positive results, with dopamine levels increasing significantly after only a few months, reported Time Magazine.

"The researchers, led by Malin Parmar, an associate professor of regenerative neurobiology at Lund University, took human embryonic stem cells extracted from excess IVF embryos and treated them to develop into motor neurons. They transplanted these neurons into the brains of rats bred to develop Parkinson's and found that the lab-made cells brought dopamine levels in these animals back to normal levels in five months. The nerves sent out long extensions to connect with other nerve cells in the brain—such networks are important to ensuring coordinated and regulated muscle movements, and without them, patients experience uncontrollable tremors. The effects were similar to those seen when fetal nerves are transplanted into Parkinson's patients, a treatment currently used to help alleviate symptoms in some patients."

Though the research to this date has only involved rats, the researchers are highly positive about the implications that it could have for human treatment.

"While the results are exciting, it's just the first step in bringing stem cell-based treatments to human patients. The study did not delve into how well the new neurons functioned and whether they could reverse symptoms of Parkinson's in the animals. And even if they do improve those symptoms, scientists still have to show that humans could get the same effects."

An editorial that came along with the Stem Cell Stem article did, however, caution that the breakthrough was years away from being able to have practical applications to those who suffer from Parkinson's and other disease where motor never function is diminished. Roger Barker of Addenbrooke's Hospital and the University of Cambridge cautioned that the researchers would proceed with caution with their discovery.

"[There must be] a knowledge of what the final product should look like and the need to get there in a collaborative way without being tempted to take shortcuts, because a premature clinical trial could impact negatively on the whole field of regenerative medicine."

[Image via Flickr]