Researchers from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, are studying how adult stem cells could help develop new therapies for Parkinson’s disease. Their findings show a way to encourage adult neural stem cells into areas of the brain that typically lack the ability to replace neurons. Because adult neural stem cells only exist in two regions of the brain, this research could have great implications for Parkinson’s sufferers, as well as traumatic brain injury patients and those who have suffered the neurological damage of a stroke.
The procedure has been tested on mice and monkeys with no adverse effects reported. It uses the patients own stem cells to target areas of the brain that have been damaged by the disease. By placing cells capable of differentiating into other types of cells directly into the area of concern, the body can begin to heal itself. Researchers hope to begin human trials after more studies have been conducted in the lab.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder with symptoms that develop slowly over time. It destroys the neurons in the brain that produce dopamine. This is precisely why this new research is so promising for Parkinson’s, said Dr. Ahvie Herskowitz, founder of San Francisco Stem Cell Treatment Center and Anatara Medicine.
“Dopamine is so important to the body’s health functioning because it controls the part of your brain that signals movement of the body. When things breaks down in this area at a cellular level, simple things like moving become complicated and challenging,” he said.
Herskowitz believes stem cell therapy could be the key to one day helping reverse the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease by helping replace the damaged neurons on the brain so that more dopamine can be produced.
Each person is affected differently by Parkinson’s, and the disease progresses at different rates for each patient. Although the disease has been studied for decades, there is still no cure. In addition, the cause is still relatively unknown, so taking steps toward preventing the disease is not possible yet, either.
Life with Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinon’s affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide. Because it presents itself differently in each person and progresses at different speeds, life with Parkinson’s depends on the individual’s disease progression. Major symptoms of the condition include tremors, slow movement, limb rigidity and balance problems.
One of the biggest problems with diagnosing and treating the disease is that many patients don’t experience symptoms until much of the area of the brain responsible has been damaged. Although symptoms related to motor skills are the most well known, patients can also experience depression, problems with sleeping and a loss of smell. Over time, cognitive impairment can occur, as well.