Japanese scientists are set to begin clinical trials for reprogrammed stem cells as a treatment to cure Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson's disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominantly dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra area of the brain, develops slowly over several years. Symptoms can include tremors in the hands, mainly at rest. Other tremors such as bradykinesia, meaning slowness of movement, limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems are also common.
The causes of PD are largely unknown and there is currently no cure, however, there are a variety of treatment options, such as medications and surgery. Parkinson’s itself is not fatal, but complications can be serious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rates complications from PD the 14th cause of death in the US.
The Japanese researchers are attempting to reverse the disease by using donated adult stem cells to reprogram them into embryonic cells, called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which will develop into dopamine-producing neurons.
Though scientists cited concern that the application of these cells could result in malignant tumors, the research team from Kyoko University successfully used iPS cells to restore normal brain function in monkeys without any side effects over the course of the 2-year study. The researchers will recruit seven Parkinson’s patients for the trial.
“This will be the world’s first clinical trial using iPS cells on Parkinson’s disease,” said Jun Takahashi, a professor at Kyoto University’s Centre for iPS Cell Research and Application.
“We intend to carry on conducting our research carefully, yet expeditiously, in coordination with Kyoto University Hospital, so that new treatment using iPS cells will be brought to patients as soon as possible,” said Shinya Yamanaka, the scientist who won the Nobel Prize for discovering iPS cells.
Kosei Hasegawa, representative chairman of the Japan Parkinson’s Disease Association, said patients are anxiously awaiting iPS therapy, and many are hoping to join the clinical research. “I want the method to be established as a treatment available for anyone as soon as possible,” Hasegawa said.
In Japan, approximately 160,000 people suffer from Parkinson’s disease. Many patients develop symptoms in their fifties or older, and the number of patients is increasing due to the aging of the population.