Parkinson’s disease is a motor disorder that affects ones control of their body movements, it is a progressive brain illness in which the patient’s condition continues to deteriorate, and it is more common in the elderly population (Reece, et. al., 2012). The disease occurs when nerve cells that produce a chemical called dopamine, die; dopamine helps control function and co-ordination of the body’s muscles, and when the majority of cells that produce it die is when Parkinson’s can be diagnosed. All this happens in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Recently breakthrough treatments have been discovered involving the use of stem cells. Stem cells are incredibly useful for scenarios such as this, once extracted they can be grown in cultures; and with the correct conditions can even be genetically modified to differentiate into certain specific cells. The use of stem cells in this manner is aimed at repairing damaged or diseased organs and cells i.e. for Parkinson’s, creating nerve cells that will begin to produce dopamine and aid a person in muscular and body control (Reece, et. al., 2012, pp422).
This possible new treatment for Parkinson’s disease is currently still being tested on monkeys. The treatment involves injecting human stem cells into the brain of a monkey that is showing symptoms of Parkinson’s. There have been multiple tests like this done. The tests were to determine whether monkeys showing symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease (i.e. loss of ability to walk or climb) would react to human stem cells being injected into their brains. The monkeys were graded according to the severity of their conditions, and in the most severe cases; those they graded Stage 5 (severely parkinsonian), which corresponds to Stage 5 of Parkinson’s disease in humans (Redmond et. al, 2007, pp12176), the monkeys regained some movement and ability to control their bodies.
It is worth noting however, that Stage 5 monkeys did not recover as well as the monkeys with less severe symptoms. The stem cells were allowed to develop into an early form of neural cell before they were injected into the monkey’s brains. Once the cells were injected they developed into fully functional dopamine secreting cells that eased the monkey’s symptoms and the monkeys regained between 20 and 45% of the movement they had lost before treatments began (New Scientist, 2012). A similar study, but conducted on rats also showed promising results. The rats were induced with a Parkinson’s like syndrome, and like the monkeys, were injected with neurons that secreted dopamine, which led to a recovery of movement (Reece, et. al., 2012).
In conclusion, using stem cells to form dopamine-secreting cells is an effective and efficient way to ease the suffering brought on by Parkinson’s disease. Although only animals are currently being tested it looks to be a promising and exciting genetic breakthrough which could lead to finding a permanent cure for Parkinson’s, as well as being able to reverse the effects and make life easier for those currently suffering.