Researchers have now shown that stem cells that are genetically modified may be able to help in Parkinson’s disease by replacing the cells that are damaged in the disease. Their research was recently published in the journal CNS and Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets. Parkinson’s disease affects the stratum, a specific part of the brain and disrupts dopamine signaling. Based on what is known about the pathology of the disease, research into treatments has focused on how to restore proper dopamine functioning. Most of these approaches have been pharmaceutical in nature, and though some of the treatments that have been developed have been helpful in the short-term, they unfortunately have not been effective in the long-term.
Stem cells have shown promise for treating a number of clinical conditions, in large part because they provide a means for replacing cells that may be damaged due to injury or disease. Based on a number of theoretical arguments that neural stem cells, and particularly genetically modified stem cells, could potentially help with Parkinson’s disease, researchers set out to determine the practicality of trying to implant these cells into the brain. What is particularly challenging about the endeavor is not physically putting the stem cells into the brain but getting the cells to survive, differentiate into brain cells, and integrate themselves into the brain in a way that allows them to function properly, replacing the function of those cells that have been lost due to disease.
The researchers found that the stem cells they used were able to integrate specifically into the stratum, the part of the brain that is preferentially affected by Parkinson’s disease. Further, the neural cells specifically differentiated into the types of cells that are lost in Parkinson’s disease. These findings show the promise for using specific types of stem cells to help with Parkinson’s disease. Unlike other approaches to the disease, which have had only short-term success, stem cell techniques provide the novel approach of completely replacing the cells that are lost and may therefore help restore the functions that are lost as a result of cell loss. Further research will need to explore this question of if genetically modified stem cells actually reverse the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. If these cells are able to provide a way to restore function in the disease, they could contribute to important interventions for neurodegeneration.
Ziavra, D. et al. (2012). Neural stem cells transplanted in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease differentiate to neuronal phenotypes and reduce rotational deficit. CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, 11(7), 829-835.