Researchers believe that replacing lost brain cells may help undo the damage caused by Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease affects more than 4.6 million people worldwide and this number is set to double by 2030 as the population ages. While the symptoms of this disorder can be alleviated, there is currently no way to halt its progression.
Researchers investigating ways to treat Parkinson’s have implanted dopamine-producing cells into patients’ brains.
Natalie Valle Guzman at the Cambridge University Brain Repair Centre, UK, said: “Cell transplantation has been shown to work for some patients and we wanted to further optimise the protocols.
“The previous trials found that the patients who do best are those who have been diagnosed for less than ten years, have responded well to levodopa drug treatments but have not yet developed major complications from it, and are under the age of 65.”
Researchers at several European centres have been working to fine-tune their patient selection criteria and perfect how cells are prepared for grafting. Since May 2015, through the EU-funded TransEuro project led by Professor Roger Barker at Cambridge University, doctors in the UK and Sweden have performed 17 grafts on Parkinson’s patients and ten more surgeries are planned.
Results of the trial are expected from 2020 onwards, after all patients enrolled in the study reach the three-year endpoint at which doctors can assess the safety and effectiveness of the graft.
Guzman said it could be ten years before this treatment would potentially reach clinics.
She said: “Our hope is that the current trial will demonstrate proof of concept.
“We would then move to using stem-cell-derived dopamine neurons.”