For the first time, German stem cell scientists from the University of Bielefeld and Dresden University of Technology have used adult human stem cells to “cure” rats with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease results from the death of dopamine-using neurons in the midbrain, and the death of these midbrain-based, dopamine-using neurons causes a loss of control of voluntary motion. Presently, no cure exists for Parkinson disease.
In this study, which was published in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, the German team produced mature dopamine-using neurons from inferior turbinate stem cells (ITSCs). ITSCs are stem cells taken from tissues that are normally discarded after an adult patient undergoes sinus surgery. The German team tested how ITSCs would behave when transplanted into a group of rats with a chemically-induced form of Parkinson’s disease. Prior to transplantation, the animals showed severe motor and behavioral abnormalities. However, 12 weeks after transplantation of the ITSCs, the cells had not only migrated into the animals’ brains, but their functional ability was fully restored and significant behavioral recovery was also observed. Additionally, none of the treated animals shows any signs of tumors after the transplantations, something that also has been a concern in stem cell therapy.
“Due to their easy accessibility and the resulting possibility of an autologous transplantation approach, ITSCs represent a promising cell source for regenerative medicine,” said UB’s Barbara Kaltschmidt, Ph.D., who led the study along with Alexander Storch, M.D., and Christiana Ossig, M.D., both of Dresden University. “The lack of ethical concerns associated with human embryonic stem cells is a plus, too.”
“In contrast to fighting the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease with medications and devices, this research is focused on restoring the dopamine-producing brain cells that are lost during the disease,” said Anthony Atala, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of STEM CELLS Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. These cells are easy to access and isolate from nasal tissue, even in older patients, which adds to their attraction as a potential therapeutic tool.”
This is certainly a very exciting animal study, but treating chemically-induced Parkinson’s disease in rodents and treating Parkinson’s disease in aged human patients is two very different things. Thus while this study is important, work in human wild require more testing and studies in larger animals.