Parkinson’s: Promising stem cell treatment reverses symptoms in rodents

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A new treatment uses stem cells to generate dopamine and reverse Parkinson’s disease symptoms in Parkinson’s disease damages a specific class of neurons located in the midbrain. This robs the brain of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control movement. In a new study, researchers describe a process for transforming non-neuronal cells into functioning neurons.

Neural grafts in rats reverse motor symptoms caused by Parkinson’s disease.

More than 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease (PD), according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. A progressive neurodegenerative disorder, PD damages or destroys neurons located in the midbrain. These neurons produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in movement. This lack of dopamine causes PD symptoms which include tremors, stiffness, and impaired balance and coordination.

Treatment with the drug L-DopaTrusted Source can replenish the brain’s dopamine to alleviate some symptoms. However, continued use of the drug can cause dyskinesia or involuntary body movements.

The scientific community is working tirelessly to develop more effective ways to treat and understand PD. In a new study, published in the journal npj Regenerative MedicineTrusted Source, researchers reveal that they reversed motor symptoms of PD in rats by implanting induced pluripotent stem cellsTrusted Source (iPSC) to replace neurons destroyed by the disease.

iPSC are cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like state. This state allowed the scientists to treat the cells and differentiate them into dopamine-producing neurons.

“It’s like taking a book, and then washing away the ink, and then being able to rewrite what that book is,” explained Dr. James Beck, senior vice president and chief scientific officer for the Parkinson’s Foundation — a nonprofit organization that works to improve the lives of people with PD and advance research toward a cure. When implanted into the brains of rats, the cells used in the study were able to send out branching fibers to make connections in the brain and produce dopamine.

With their study, the researchers investigated the most successful protocol for transforming non-neuronal cells into functioning neurons.

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