Parkinson's and stem cells: where is the research going?

The next two decades could see stem cells that are tailor-made for patients.

In a supplement of Journal of Parkinson's Disease, experts describe how stem cells could be used to treat Parkinson's disease. The treatment of this pathology is now based on modulating dopamine therapies, improving motor impairment. But this medication has limitations and significant side effects in the long run.

Replace lost neurons

"We are in desperate need of a better way to help people with Parkinson's disease, which is increasing around the world, and drugs only partially address the problems of coordination and movement," say Claire Henchcliffe. , neurologist. "Stem cells could revolutionize this care," she adds.
In summary, stem cells prevent the use of dopamine-based drugs. Parkinson's disease is characterized by the degeneration of a brain structure, the transplantation of these cells, able to replace lost neurons, is the basis of new therapeutic strategies.

Technological advances

In the past, human cells from aborted embryos were used. Although these transplants were able to survive and function for many years, there were scientific and ethical issues: fetal cells are limited in number and difficult to control. Only a few patients have benefited, and some have developed significant side effects, such as uncontrollable movements.

Recent advances in technology have made it possible to ensure the quality of stem cells and to cultivate practically unlimited quantities of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the laboratory. The choice of starting material has also been expanded, thanks to several human embryonic stem cell lines. The first clinical trials of systematic transplantation using stem cells began last year in Japan.

Biological, practical and commercial barriers

"The next two decades could see stem cells that are tailor-made for patients or specific patient groups," says Patrik Brundin, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science. But to do this, "there are many biological, practical and commercial barriers that need to be overcome," he concludes.

Parkinson's disease is the neurological disease that has increased the most between 1990 and 2015: the number of its victims has doubled. At the end of 2015, the number of Parkinson's patients treated was around 160,000, with around 25,000 new cases per year. 17% of new cases were under 65 years old. In 2030, the number of Parkinson's patients will have increased by 56% compared to 2015, with one in 120 people among those over 45 years of age.