Stem Cell Therapies in Parkinson's
Stem cell therapy for the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Dementia, have exploded onto the scene as many clinicians and researchers believe in its great potential to induce changes.
A recent report from the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society (MDS), however, asks to exercise caution as there are a host of large challenges yet to overcome for researchers and treatment teams.
What is Stem Cell Therapy?
Cell therapy consists of introducing new and functional cells into a person’s body, to restore damaged tissue. Most of these treatments rely on stem cells, as these embody early cellular growth stages and can be manipulated into becoming many diverse kinds of sophisticated cells — a process called differentiation.
A primary intention of cell therapy in Parkinson’s is to replace lost dopaminergic neurons, which decays in the substantia nigra portion of the brain in people with the condition.
Despite significant advances in this field, limitations remain before stem cell therapy might enter into clinical use, the MDS report stated.
What's the Catch?
For starters, the MDS report states that the stage of Parkinson's best suited to trial a stem cell therapy remained unidentified, which is a major concern.
The report also states that global research efforts have still not determined the types of nerve cells with the most suitable characteristics for stem cell treatment.
Other major challenges involve growing stem cells into fully functional nerve cells while ensuring that they stop developing before becoming tumors.
Researchers also continue to seek out the most desirable implantation sites in the brain, and methods to enable new cells to connect and communicate with existing cells without worrisome side effects.
As Parkinson’s involves the loss of diverse cell types, the body attempts to compensate for their loss by making new connections. It is not yet known how the introduction of new stem cells might affect these compensatory mechanisms.
Finally, there is still no solid evidence that replacing dopaminergic neurons alone would constitute a Parkinson’s cure, as the transplanted cells may still be affected by the mysterious underlying mechanism of Parkinson's.
Notwithstanding these current limitations in understanding stem cell therapies, the report is eager to point out that the early results of various research teams across the world are "encouraging".
Despite the still-experimental nature of cell therapy, several “business enterprises” are now offering it to patients, the report stated, and “stem-cell tourism” — people who travel to private clinics in unregulated countries and pay “large sums of money … for unproven cell therapies” — is a concerning development.
The report advises caution when considering these services, as the evidence does not support their widespread use outside of clinical trials, at this time.
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Source: International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society (MDS), "MDS Position Paper - Use of Stem Cell Therapies for Parkinson's Disease"