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Six years ago, Shinya Yamanaka received the Nobel Prize for the development of so-called iPS cells. Now, for the first time, such new cells have been planted in the brain of people with Parkinson's.
2.4 million new cells
According to Nature magazine, a 50-year-old Japanese-born pluripotent stem cell (iPS cell) was planted at Kyoto University Hospital in October. In total, there were 2.4 million new cells.
Why new cells?
Parkinson's disease kills neurons that carry the messenger dopamine. The new cells are supposed to replace these dead neurons.
A new method
Only ten years ago, Shinya Yamanaka had shown that normal human body cells can be converted directly into an embryonic state and then developed into tissue.
No ethical problems
Before Yamanaka's breakthrough, this was only possible with cells from human embryos. The use of human embryos as Cell supplier however, sparked ethical debates, with critics arguing that embryos are not a “raw material store”. With cells that are extracted from the skin, for example, this question does not arise.
Yamanaka's discovery promptly led to the establishment of the CiRA Institute, the director of which became the Japanese himself. In 2012 he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
New cells in the eye
In 2014, doctors implanted pigment tissue developed from their own cells in a woman with retinal disease, and in 2017 they used a stranger's iPS cells in a man.
Parkinson's donor cells
The patient now being treated also received cells from a donor. While this is more complicated than using cells from the patient's own tissue, it shortens the process of cell formation.
Japan is now building a biobank for around 140 completed iPS cell lines, which should be large enough to enable therapies for the entire Japanese population.
Symptoms of Parkinson's disease include damage to the nervous system, then the entire musculoskeletal system fails. The reason is that neurons that produce dopamine disappear.
People with Parkinson's suffer from slow movements, stiff muscles due to increased tension in these muscles, tremors that occur when the body is at rest and a lack of body balance.
Causes of Parkinson's
The causes of the disease are unknown. The only thing that is clear is that in Parkinson's disease it is precisely the nerve cells in the brain that transport the messenger substance dopamine, which transmits information to the nervous system, die.
Is Parkinson's inheritable?
With the PARK1 gene defect, 50 percent of a patient's offspring becomes ill. A parent's gene mutation is enough for the disease to break out. It is a variant of Parkinson's syndrome.
Can Parkinson be cured?
Parkinson's is currently an incurable disease. A protophase of dopamine, levodopa, only keeps the symptoms at bay. Doctors are now hoping that stem cell therapy can replace the dead neurons - and that would be a cure.
The success shows in practice
Only practice will show whether the stem cells really become neurons. After this first treatment, five more patients are now undergoing iPS treatment. Doctors expect reliable results on the efficiency of cell therapy in 2020. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)