Possible progress against Parkinson's and good news for stem cell therapies
on 05 April 2015

Good news for anyone suffering from Parkinson’s Disease is on the horizon. A debilitating disease, caused by a reduction in dopamine production in a part of the brain called substantia nigra (Pars Compactum), a part of the basal ganglia. This part of the brain, among other things, controls the regulation of fine motor movement; hence the jerky movement and tremors associated with Parkinson’s.

Solutions on the horizon, with calmness leading the way!

Brazilian researchers at the D'OR Institute for Research and Education (IDOR) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) have taken what they describe as an important step toward using the implantation of stem cell-generated neurons as a treatment for Parkinson's disease. Using an FDA approved substance for treating stomach cancer, Rehen and colleagues were able to grow dopamine-producing neurons derived from embryonic stem cells that remained healthy and functional for as long as 15 months after implantation into mice, restoring motor function without forming tumours.

Parkinson's, which affect as many as 10 million people in the world, is caused by a depletion of dopamine-producing neurons in the brain. Current treatments include medications and electrical implants in the brain which causes severe adverse effects over time and fail to prevent disease progression. Several studies have indicated that the transplantation of embryonic stem cells improves motor functions in animal models. However, until now, the procedure has shown to be unsafe, because of the risk of tumours upon transplantation.

To address this issue, the researchers tested for the first time to pre-treat undifferentiated mouse embryonic stem cells with mitomycin C, a drug already prescribed to treat cancer.

The substance blocks the DNA replication and prevents the cells to multiply out of control.

The researchers used mice modelled for Parkinson's. The animals were separated into three groups. The first one, the control group, did not receive the stem cell implant. The second one received the implant of stem cells which were not treated with mitomycin C and the third one received the mitomycin C treated cells.

After the injection of 50,000 untreated stem cells, the animals of the second group showed improvement in motor functions but all of them died between 3 and 7 weeks later. These animals also developed intracerebral tumours. In contrast, animals receiving the treated stem cells showed improvement of Parkinson's symptoms and survived until the end of the observation period of 12 weeks post-transplant with no tumours detected. Four of these mice were monitored for as long as 15 months with no signs of pathology.

Furthermore, the scientists have also shown that treating the stem cells with mitomycin C induced a four-fold increase in the release of dopamine after in vitro differentiation.

"This simple strategy of shortly exposing pluripotent stem cells to an anti-cancer drug turned the transplant safer, by eliminating the risk of tumour formation," says the leader of the study Stevens Rehen, Professor at UFRJ and researcher at IDOR.

The discovery, reported in April in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, could pave the way for researchers and physicians to propose a clinical trial using pluripotent stem cells treated with mitomycin C prior to transplant to treat Parkinson's patients and also other neurodegenerative conditions.

"Our technique with mitomycin C may speed the proposal of clinical trials with pluripotent cells to several human diseases," says Rehen. "It is the first step to make this kind of treatment with stem cells possible.

Source: Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience