Scientists may soon be able to grow a patient’s own brain tissue to repair damage caused by Parkinson’s disease, according to a study that marks a milestone in efforts to find a cure.
Researchers saw an improvement in the condition of mice that had Parkinson’s after cloned cells were grafted on to their brains.
It is the first time “therapeutic cloning” has been used to treat the devastating disease. Cloned cells are so useful because they are genetically identical to the patient, and are not rejected.
Although carrying out the procedure on humans is a long way off, in the short term scientists hope to test new drugs on brain cells from Parkinson’s patients grown in the lab.
Parkinson’s affects about 120,000 people in Britain, with 10,000 new cases diagnosed every year. It robs people of the ability to walk and even eat. As the disease progresses, higher doses of drugs are required, leading to side-effects that include involuntary movements.
The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, suggests the same method of cloning used to create Dolly the sheep can be used to grow a patient’s own brain tissue and repair damage done by the debilitating disease.
The principle is to create specific nerve cells, producing the signalling chemical dopamine, which are destroyed by Parkinson’s. An American-Japanese team succeeded in using the “nuclear transfer” cloning method to turn mice tail cells into embryonic cells, and then into the desired nerve cells.
The team, Dr Lorenz Studer, Dr Viviane Tabar and colleagues at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, together with colleagues in Japan, derived 187 lines of nerve cells from 24 mice with Parkinson’s.
The mice that received a graft of 100,000 neurons derived from their own cloned embryos exhibited brain improvements, according to studies of their movements and behaviour.
It is the first time the “Dolly method” has been used successfully to treat disease in the same animals from which the cells were derived.
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and development at the Parkinson’s Disease Society, said: “This is an exciting development, as for the first time we can see that it may be possible to create a person’s own embryonic stem cells to potentially treat their Parkinson’s. Researchers in this area now need to carry out more studies to satisfy safety concerns.”
The team concluded there was “considerable therapeutic potential for the future”.
For the procedure to work with humans, the scientists would need to create embryonic cells. At the moment the main method is to use human eggs, which is highly controversial. However, a method of turning adult cells into embryonic cells has been developed that could be more acceptable.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a March 24, 2008 article by Roger Highfield in The Telegraph