21 November 2018

A commentary on Japanese attempt to cure Parkinson's disease using stem cells


In a commentary to the Danish magazine Ingeniøren, DanStem Associate Professor, Agnete Kirkeby commented on Japanese neurosurgeons who are initiating a clinical trial on transplanting reprogrammed donor stem cells into the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients.

These stem cells have been differentiated, to develop into the type of dopamine-producing nerve cells in which the brain is deficient as the disease progresses. This deficiency causes the patients to have less control over their movements.

The reprogrammed stem cells, are brought back to the fetal stage by inserting four genetic factors, a method that was shown by Japanese scientists some years ago and later triggered a Nobel Prize in Medicine, (Shinya Yamanaka, 2006).

When reprogramming stem cells, in principle you can use the patient's own cells, but in this study, the Japanese team has chosen to use reprogrammed stem cells from a donor immunologically matched to the recipients. The advantage of this method is that the same stem cells can be used for more patients and not just for one.

"We have seen in early studies that it is not necessary to adapt the cells immunologically to the individual when dealing with brain disorders. The brain is not particularly immune and therefore there is no big risk that the body will repel the cells, "says Agnete Kirkeby, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen's Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Biology.

In order to arrive at the correct nerve cells for treatment, the researchers influence the stem cells with the right hormonal stimuli, so to copy the cycle the cells undergo during pregnancy.

"Here the timing is incredibly important. One must hit the exact time when the cell ‘decides’ to first become a brain cell and later to precisely this type of brain cell, we are looking for. Moreover, we need to use exactly the right amount of signal substances for it under the precise conditions it usually develops… "says Agnete Kirkeby.

In Japan, the surgeons plan to treat six Parkinson's disease patients with reprogrammed stem cells by 2020. If this will go well, the expectation is for real mass treatment by 2023, (according to Nature magazine).

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