Therapeutic cloning offers hope for Parkinson's disease cure

Insertion of an electrode during deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease. Credit: thomasbg/WikiCommons

A breakthrough in the treatment of the degenerative Parkinson's disease appears closer with the revelation that therapeutically cloned cells have successfully treated the condition in mice.

Parkinson's (or PD) is a disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs the sufferer's speech and motor skills. It is usually characterised by tremors of the hand and muscular rigidity.

A team at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre (MSKCC) in New York has said this is the first time the disease has been treated successfully in this manner and say it is an exciting development.

The researchers took laboratory-matured cells and placed them back into the rat from which it had been taken in a technique called therapeutic cloning. According to a MSKCC press release, the controversial technique -- opposed by some Christian groups -- offers hope for Parkinson's disease cure.

"The scientists used skin cells from the tail of the animal to generate customised or autologous dopamine neurons—the missing neurons in Parkinson's disease," said the release.

"The mice that received neurons derived from individually matched stem cell lines exhibited neurological improvement. But when these neurons were grafted into mice that did not genetically match the transplanted cells, the cells did not survive well and the mice did not recover," the statement added.

Speaking to The Independent newspaper, Dr Kieran Breen, director of research at the UK's Parkinson's Disease Society said: "This is an exciting development, as for the first time it may be possible to create a person's own embryonic stem cells to potentially treat Parkinson's disease."

"Stem cell therapy offers great hope for repairing the brain. It may ultimately offer a cure, allowing people to lead a life that is free from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease," Dr Breen added.

The work was led by senior author Lorenz Studer, MD, Head of the Stem Cell and Tumour Biology Laboratory within the Sloan-Kettering Institute at MSKCC, and lead author Viviane Tabar, MD, Neurosurgeon and stem cell scientist at MSKCC. The work was performed in collaboration with scientists at the Riken Institute in Kobe, Japan.

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