A recent finding that stem cells can been used to make dopamine cells that were then transplanted into the brains of rats may lay the groundwork for new treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
Malin Palmar, PhD, of the Wallenberg Neuroscience Center at Lund University in Sweden, and colleagues, made the discovery while working with rat models. Parkinson’s is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine, which helps regulate mood and movement.
In their experiments, the researchers killed dopamine-producing neurons in one side of the rats’ brains. Then, human embryonic stem cells that were converted into neurons that produced dopamine were implanted into the brains.
Results showed that after the insertion of the new cells, damage caused during the absence of the neurons was reversed, the researchers reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell. In addition, those cells survived in the long-term, restored dopamine production and functioned in a way similar to dopamine cells in the human brain.
"These cells have the same ability as the brain's normal dopamine cells to not only reach, but also to connect to their target area over longer distances,” Palmar said. “This has been our goal for some time, and the next step is to produce the same cells under the necessary regulations for human use.”
The researchers said human trials of stem-cell-derived neurons could begin as early as 2017.
Stem cells can be used to heal the damage in the brain caused by Parkinson’s disease, according to scientists in Sweden. They said their study on rats heralded a “huge breakthrough” towards developing effective treatments.
The disease is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine, which helps to control mood and movement. To simulate Parkinson’s, Lund University researchers killed dopamine-producing neurons on one side of the rats’ brains.
They then converted human embryonic stem cells into neurons that produced dopamine. These were injected into the rats’ brains, and the researchers found evidence that the damage was reversed.