Is the Dawn of the Stem Cell Revolution Finally Here?
Scientific experts predicted that stem cells will bring a paradigm shift in medicine. Clinicians already use adult stem cells to treat blood and immune disorders.
Many studies have focused on a particular type: induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC’s), these cells can be converted into any kind of cell in the body. If you do a search for “the promise of stem cells,” 200,000 items will appear, involving diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and other medical conditions.
Indeed, it seems the horizon has changed with medical discoveries in 2020. The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper of a trial using customized stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease in patients. 10 million people suffer globally from this condition.
In fact, the loss of neurons that create the neurotransmitter dopamine is a main cause of this ailment. These researchers exchanged dying neurons with healthy neurons prepared in the lab. The NEJM paper indicates that there is great promise with this approach.
Dr. Jeffrey Schweitzer, neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Kwang-Soo Kim, neurobiologist at McLean Hospital applied autologous iPSC’s. These mature cells come directly from the patient, avoiding any harmful immune response.
For example, the researchers extracted cells from a 69-year-old man and converted them into iPSC’s. These cells behaved like dopaminergic neurons, which they injected into the patient’s putamen, a brain region implicated in Parkinson’s.
In addition, PET scans provided proof that the new cells worked over a 2 year period following the procedure. There was clear improvement in the man’s motor symptoms and quality-of-life scores. Moreover, he was able to decrease his daily medication, plus he had no side effects or complications.
“This represents a milestone in ‘personalized medicine’ for Parkinson’s,” Kim wrote in a statement. This result is a breakthrough for patients.
The patient, who made records in free diving, had severe tremors and stiffness before the procedure. He returned to swimming and diving after the procedure. Besides, it was difficult to tie his shoes before the procedure.
“Parkinson’s had me under a death sentence,” he says. “[The therapy] has not only changed my life, it has literally saved my life.”
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