Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating condition where dopamine-producing cells (dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain) in a region of the brain called the substantia nigra die off. This region of the midbrain is important to basic movments, and the symptoms include tremors and shaking (like Michael J. Fox).
Although we still don’t know why they die, it’s long been a goal to try and replace these damaged neurons with healthy ones. Stem cells, you say?
Oh yeah, we’re all over that, as reported in Nature this week:
In a series of experiments, the team gave animals six injections of more than a million cells each, to parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s. The neurons survived, formed new connections and restored lost movement in mouse, rat and monkey models of the disease, with no sign of tumour development. The improvement in monkeys was crucial, as the rodent brains required fewer working neurons to overcome their symptoms.
On the prospect of future human trials, Dr Studer said: “We now have the right cells, but to put them into humans requires them to be produced in a specialised facility rather than a laboratory, for safety reasons. We have removed the main biological bottleneck and now it’s an engineering problem.”
(via guardian.co.uk, image of dopamine-producing neural stem cells from Sonja Kriks/Lorenz Studer)
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