There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, and much of the effort to curb its development has been unsuccessful. But now, doctors are looking into whether stem cells, which have the ability to replicate other body cells, can better manage Parkinson's symptoms.
Recently, doctors at the Royal Melbourne Hospital took part in what they're calling an ethical procedure to implant millions of stem cells into the brain of a patient who had Parkinson's. The cells were inserted into 14 different sites, according to the Australian Broadcast Association.
"The goals are to increase dopamine levels and to take one more step toward finding a cure."
The goals are to increase dopamine levels and take one more step toward finding a Parkinson's cure. Dopamine is an important chemical that sends signals to control coordination and movement. When cells die, dopamine levels drop.
Dr. Nair, a neurosurgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, noted that the procedure wasn't easy. However, it's much less invasive than actual surgery that requires doctors to drill holes into a person's skull and place wires into two regions of their brain.
"The challenge was to do it in a way that you minimize the number of times that you pass your instrument through the brain, to minimize the damage," Nair said.
To ensure the procedure went smoothly, Nair and his colleagues went through four trial runs with 3-D models.
"…We had to actually plan out a new methodology of doing it. I think we did about three or four dummy runs before we were confident that we got it perfectly right," Nair said.
As we mentioned previously, the procedure addressed ethical concerns by using stem cells from unfertilized eggs, rather than dead embryos.
"Stem cells have always had an ethical problem behind it, because you traditionally have been getting it from what is called embryonic stem cells, so you need to get it from embryos that have died. So the beauty of this technique is that this is an unfertilized egg activated in a lab, so there are no ethical issues surrounding this to be used as mainstream treatment down the line," Nair said.
Parkinson's is a chronic neurological disease that affects around a million people, according to Parkinson's Disease Foundation. When someone develops Parkinson's, symptoms includes poor balance and coordination, tremors, bradykinesia and rigidity. While Parkinson's itself won't kill a person, according to Bev Ribaudo of The Michael J. Fox Foundation, it can disrupt his or her daily functions.
While no cure exists, scientists are working hard to develop stem cell treatments that can better manage the disease.