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Stem cell treatment breakthrough could cure Parkinson’s patients

Sunday July 17, 2016

Danny Buckland and Lucy Johnston

Express -

Doctors performing surgery

SCIENTISTS are developing a revolutionary stem cell treatment that could hold Parkinson’s disease in check and allow sufferers to live independent lives.

They are working to perfect a way of implanting thousands of nerve cells into the brain to replace the cells that have degenerated.

The breakthrough by researchers at Cambridge University and in Sweden could ensure victims can work and live normally for years instead of relying on increasing levels of care.

Professor Roger Barker, of Cambridge University, who is coordinating the Transeuro project, hopes the treatment will become widely available within a decade.

It is hoped clinical trials on patients could begin within three years.

Dr Barker said: “This will change the natural history of Parkinson’s disease and patients would have a good quality of life for a long period.

“In time, it could become a first-line treatment. Patients wouldn’t need any of the drugs, or a much lower dose, and could carry on working which makes economic sense.”

The disease, which blighted the life of the late boxer Muhammad Ali, is caused by the progressive loss of dopamine in the brain, a chemical released by neurons to send signals to other nerve cells.

As levels drop a patient may develop rigidity, slowness of movement, tremors, and problems with gait and posture.

The new treatment, pioneered by Professor Anders Bjorklund, at Lund University in Sweden, involves growing dopamine-producing stem cells in a laboratory and implanting up to 100,000 of them into the brain.

Dr Barker said: “These are stem cells in the last stage of their development and destined to become dopamine cells. Once implanted, they will carry on to develop as they would normally.”

Current treatments try to counteract the loss of dopamine with drugs.

However, as the disease progresses these drugs become less effective.

The number of Britons with Parkinson’s is expected to rise from 127,000 to 162,000 by 2020 and the majority rely on a drug called L-dopa which was introduced almost 50 years ago.

There are no tests for Parkinson’s and it can take more than five years to diagnose, by which time the condition may be advanced.

Parkinson’s UK said: “Cell transplants have the potential to lead to new and better treatments.”

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