Groundbreaking Parkinson’s Research Happening at Scripps 4/30/15

Healthy nerve cells in our brains produce molecules called neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which is a chemical that helps control muscle movement. In Parkinson’s disease, nerve cells degenerate, and the resulting loss of dopamine leads to symptoms that include muscle tremor, muscle stiffness, trouble walking, imbalance and speech problems.

While Parkinson’s disease itself is technically not fatal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rated complications from the disease as the 14th leading cause of death in the United States; it is estimated to affect one in 100 people over age 60. Medications and surgery can be helpful in lessening symptoms, but there is not currently a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

A clinical trial led in partnership with Scripps Clinic, The Scripps Research Institute and The Parkinson’s Association of San Diego has shown promising results using induced pluripotent stem cells to halt or reverse the effects of Parkinson’s disease in an animal study.

Skin cells taken from eight Scripps Clinic Parkinson’s disease patients involved in the clinical trial have been cultivated in vitro and turned into pluripotent stem cells. The stem cells were then used to create dopamine-producing brain cells. The dopamine-producing brain cells successfully reversed the pathology in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease, resulting in motor recovery.

The animal study is a first step toward Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to implant the pluripotent stem cells back into the donor patients’ brains; the goal is for the cells to integrate inside the brain and produce enough dopamine to alleviate the worst motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

“There are currently clinical trials using pluripotent stem cells to replace cells lost to injury or neurodegenerative disease, as well as for the development of pharmaceuticals,” said Melissa Houser, M.D, neurologist and Medical Director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Center at Scripps Clinic. “What sets our research apart is the goal of reimplantating cells back into the same patient for function restoration as a treatment for Parkinson’s versus using embryonic stem cells.”

The eight Parkinson’s patients participating in the clinical trial continue to work closely with scientists from The Scripps Research Institute and Scripps Clinic as the research continues to progress. Because of the unique, personalized nature of the clinical trial, the patients are participating with scientists and doctors, meeting regularly to review the progress. Their mission is simple: to advance non-embryonic stem cell research that will result in a treatment for Parkinson’s while inspiring people with the disease to move beyond their physical limitations.

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Categories: Health