Australia: world first stem cell trial for Parkinson’s disease starts

​In a bid to cure Parkinson’s disease, medical researchers at The Royal Melbourne Hospital have injected neural stem cells into the brain of a patient suffering from the disease

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In a world-first, Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH) (VIC, Australia) neuroscientists transplanted millions of parthenogenetic neural stem cells in the brain of a patient suffering from Parkinson's disease as part of a phase I safety study to treat the disease. The trial involved 12 patients with moderate to severe Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative neurological condition that affects a person’s control of their body movements. In Australia alone, approximately 80,000 people are living with Parkinson’s. There is currently no cure for the disease.

A 64-year old Victorian man was the first patient to receive the neural stem cell injections in a delicate 8-hour operation which was performed by Girish Nair, a neurosurgeon at RMH. “The first patient’s operation was a success, however we won’t know for 12 months the effects of the stem cell implants and if we are on the verge of a new treatment for Parkinson’s,” commented Andrew Evans, lead researcher and RMH Neurologist.

The therapy is unique because it utilizes parthenogenetic neural stem cells, which are derived from unfertilized eggs and manufactured in the lab by the International Stem Cell Corporation, a biotech company in California (USA). This type of stem cell avoids the ethical dilemma that often surrounds these types of trials. It is hoped the cells will boost levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a lack of which causes tremors, rigidity and slowness.

“The first phase is critical for us to understand the right amount of neural stem cells required to be injected into the brain,” continued Evans.” The three different doses range from 30,000,000 to 70,000,000 neural cells and of those, only a very small percentage will become dopamine.”

The transplant of stem cells in the remaining 11 patients will finish in 2017 with the results expected in 2019.

“Following transplantation, all 12 patients will be monitored for 12 months at specified intervals, to evaluate the safety and the effects of the neural stem cells. PET scans will also be performed at various times during the study to see if the transplanted stems cells have taken effect” explained Girish Nair. “At the end of the study we will have transplanted tens of millions of neural stem cells directly into the brains of the 12 Australian participants. Hopefully this will go a long way into understanding how we can replenish brain function for people with Parkinson diseased.”


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Elena Conroy

Contributor, Future Science Group

If you have any interest in submitting to the journal Regenerative Medicine or have any queries, please don't hesitate to contact my colleague Adam, Commissioning Editor of the journal

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