The Parkinson's Disease Society (PD) has announced funding of £170k to the University of Bristol for research into how to make stem cells produce dopamine and live longer after they have been transplanted into animals.
The team at Bristol University led by Dr Maeve Caldwell, Senior Research Fellow, will investigate whether they can turn human embryonic stem cells into nerve cells that produce dopamine, by adding proteins called Lmx1a and Bcl-xl which can protect the nerve cells from damage.
Stem cell therapy offers great hope for repairing the brain in people with Parkinson's. It may ultimately offer a cure, allowing people to lead a life that is free from the symptoms of Parkinson's.
Researchers have already investigated the potential of using human embryonic stem cells derived from nerve tissue for Parkinson's stem cell research, but these dopamine producing cells have died after being transplanted into animal models of the condition.
Dr Caldwell comments:
“If successful, we will then transplant these cells into an animal model that has the symptoms of Parkinson's to see if they are indeed dopamine producing nerve cells which can survive in the brain, even possibly reversing the symptoms of the disease. This could be a major step forward in developing an eventual cure for Parkinson's Disease.”
Stem cells are the building blocks of the human body. They are like ‘blank' cells that eventually turn into every type of cell in the body including brain, blood, skin and bone. Researchers know that the symptoms of Parkinson's appear when 80% of the nerve cells in the brain that make the chemical dopamine die. The aim of stem cell therapy is to replace the dead dopamine-producing nerve cells with new, healthy cells. This will restore the supply of dopamine to the brain and allows it to work normally again.
Scientists have already shown that stem cells can be grown in the laboratory. However, one of the many technical challenges scientists need to overcome, before stem cell therapy can become an effective treatment for people with Parkinson's, is ensuring that cells produce dopamine neurons and survive after transplantation.
Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research at Parkinson's Disease Society said:
“Stem cell research is an important area of study for people with a range of conditions, including Parkinson's. It offers a significant – but as yet not fully explored – avenue of hope for the 120,000 people living with Parkinson's in the UK. This research will increase our knowledge of what is required for stem cells to grow with the ultimate goal of transplanting nerve cells into the brain to replace those which have died.”