An exciting new clinical trial called STEM-PD is due to start in Sweden and the UK which will focus on stem cell transplantation as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s are caused by the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells or neurons in the brain; and researchers have long proposed using cell transplantation as a treatment option for replacing these lost dopamine cells. One challenge presented to research teams however has been generating the requisite number of identical dopamine neurons to transplant.

Now, researchers in Lund (Sweden) and Cambridge (UK) will initiate the STEM-PD study that will, it is hoped, overcome this issue. Using reproducible stem cell lines, the researchers are now able to grow millions of dopamine neurons in the laboratory using stem cells – enough to implant into the trial participants to assess the safety of this treatment option over time.

Stem cells are powerful pluripotent cells, meaning they are able to develop into many different types of cells or tissues in the body. The researchers in Sweden and the UK have developed a special recipe for growing and nurturing dopamine neurons from the pluripotent cells, which will provide the research study with a plentiful supply.

STEM-PD will transplant these stem cell-derived dopamine neurons into the brains of eight people with Parkinson’s and assess them over one year. The study is being funded by national and EU funding agencies as well as the large pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk.

Cure Parkinson’s has been supporting Professor Roger Barker’s research in Cambridge for a number of years and we are now funding a three year follow-up study monitoring participants to assess the long term effects of cell-replacement therapy.

Photo: stem-cell derived neurons grown in the laboratory courtesy of Dr. Tilo Kunath – MRC, Edinburgh

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