Parkinson’s Disease Successfully Treated with Adult Stem Cells

After isolation and in vitro expansion over several months of autologous neural stem cells that had been obtained from cortical and subcortical tissue samples of a patient during neurosurgical procedures, the neural stem cells were then carefully examined for safety, function and differentiation. It was not until nine months after harvesting of the cells that the researchers administered unilateral microinjections of the autologous cell suspensions containing differentiated dopaminergic and GABAergic neurons into the brain of a patient with advanced Parkinson’s disease. Since the cells were autologous (in which the donor and recipient are the same person), there was no need for immunosuppression.

According to Dr. Michel Levesque, the lead author of the study and a physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as well as the UCLA School of Medicine and the Brain Research Institute at UCLA, “We have documented the first successful adult neural stem cell transplantation to reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease, and we have also demonstrated the long term safety and therapeutic effects of this approach.”

He adds, “Of particular note are the striking results this study yielded. For the 5 years following the procedure, the patient’s motor skills improved by over 80% for at least 36 months.”

Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder in which impaired neurons located within the substantia nigra region of the brain are no longer able to produce dopamine, the chemical that is necessary for natural muscle movement and coordination throughout the body. In the U.S. alone, approximately 1.5 million people have already been diagnosed with the disease and approximately 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed each year. While Parkinson’s usually develops after the age of 65, approximately 15% of all people with the disease are under the age of 50. Conventional pharmacological treatments which attempt to replace or mimic dopamine may mask the symptoms of the disease, but none have been able to reverse the progression of the disease. Additionally, side effects, contraindications and other risks associated with such drugs are a serious concern.

Now, however, as Dr. Levesque has demonstrated, adult stem cell therapy offers the first type of treatment for Parkinson’s which actually reverses the progression of the disease, safely and effectively.

Presumably not yet aware of the medical scandal caused by the fetal stem cell therapy that resulted in the development of a tumor in an Israeli boy (see the related news article on this website entitled “Fetal Stem Cell Therapy Could Prove Fatal”, dated February 17, 2009), the authors of this study nevertheless felt it important to compare their autologous adult stem cell therapy with therapies that use fetal or embryonic tissue, which, the authors point out, “carry inherent risks of immunological reactions, infectious transmission and intractable dyskinesias, in addition to serious ethical concerns”, not to mention also the risk of tumor formation. By sharp contrast, autologous adult stem cell therapy does not pose any such risks, and thereby offers a new cellular therapeutic alternative to diseases of the central nervous system, especially for the selective neural repair of discrete cell loss in progressive degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

As the authors conclude in their publication, “Adult neural stem cells derived from a patient’s cerebral tissue can become a source of differentiated neurons, useful for grafting in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The combined GABAergic and dopaminergic cells produced a long lasting motor improvement. This approach has the potential to make neural stem cell therapy acceptable and available to a large number of patients.”

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