At the recent research conference we heard from a number of incredibly influential Parkinson’s researchers. You can read more about the conference here - http://bit.ly/1brnKVE
Dr Emma Lane, Cardiff University spoke about ‘Stem cells and transplantation’.
Watch a short clip of Dr Lane discussing stem cells and their potential in Parkinson’s research here - http://bit.ly/1hkNkxP
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Dr Emma Lane works alongside other researchers in the Brian Repair Group, so cell research, animal research and live patient research results are shared. That is reassuring.
In the 1990's, great hope was put into research to replace damaged brain cells.
It could be shown from PET scans taken before and after surgery that the dopamine levels in patients receiving transplanted foetal cells had increased. But the side effects e.g. graft-induced dyskinesia raised doubts about the procedure. These doubts, combined with the variability of the outcomes, the difficulty of “harvesting” the cells (ethics, logistics and quality control) and the arrival of George W Bush, put the brakes on this research.
Emma's work looks at the mechanism behind dyskinesia, and compares that which is drug-induced with graft-induced dyskinesia. Would the same people who currently suffer drug-induced dyskinesia also suffer graft-induced dyskinesia, were they to receive transplanted cells? It would seem so.
Traditionally, those patients coming forward for transplantation were often in the later stages of PD and also had degeneration of cells outside of the striatum, the “factory” which produces dopamine.
If patients in the earlier stages of PD with no evidence of drug-induced dyskinesia, were offered this procedure, if questions about the number and location of the cells to be put in could be answered, if immuno-suppressant drugs could be given for a period of 2 years after transplant and if the cells could be harvested quickly and be guaranteed of a consistent quality, then the procedure could be successful, at least in restoring dopamine-producing cells. Lots of ifs.
Cells used for transplantation need not be embryonic, which would remove the ethical question. Adult stem cells e.g. from bone marrow or even the skin cells of the affected patient could be used. Cells may even be introduced into the person with PD through a nasal spray, thus avoiding the risks of surgery.
Emma has “cells in a dish” to work on, taken from live animals, and transplants using these ‘reversed' cells have been shown to be safe in animals.
Roger Barker in Cambridge is applying this research from the lab into clinical trials on live patients, so it is not staying in the petri dish!
My own feeling about this, having listened to all the speakers, was that, as the disease is so much more than just a lack of dopamine producing cells, drug cocktails carefully and individually administered, would be less risky and potentially more effective than cell transplantation.
The “quick fix” is often too good to be true.
Dawn May, Research Supporter