Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder with symptoms that become more severe over time. It affects about 1% of people ages 60 years and older in industrialized nations. The exact cause of the disease isn’t known, but experts believe that both genetic and environmental factors play a role.

“Parkinson’s disease causes a decrease in dopamine in certain parts of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is released in your brain as a way of sending signals.”

“Parkinson’s can cause a decrease in dopamine activity.”

There’s no cure for Parkinson’s disease. But over the past few decades, researchers have been studying stem cell therapy to provide better treatment options.

“Stem cell therapy is being used to treat Parkinson’s disease.”

Stem cells are special because they are undifferentiated, which means they can become many types of specialized cells.

Stem cells are natural resources for your body. Stem cells can be transformed into any type of cell, from bone cells to brain cells.

There are three main types of cells.

  • Embryonic stem cells: These cells are pluripotent, meaning they can transform into the many types of cells found in your body. As the name suggests, they’re found in embryos.
  • Somatic stem cells: Also called adult stem cells, these mostly perform repair functions. They can still transform, but not into as many types of specialized cells as embryonic stem cells can.
  • Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs): These stem cells are made by genetically changing cells that have already matured.

Stem cell therapy is the use of stem cells from a donor to treat a disorder.

“Stem cells are being used to replace brain cells in Parkinson’s disease patients. This could help with Parkinson’s disease.”

“Stem cells can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease.”

Stem cells can be introduced into the affected areas of your brain where they can become brain cells. The new brain cells could help regulate dopamine levels, which should improve the symptoms of the disease.

It’s important to note that experts believe this would only be a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and not a cure.

“Parkinson’s disease is still present even though stem cell therapy has the potential to replace brain cells destroyed by the disease. Parkinson’s disease would destroy the stem cells.”

“Stem cell therapy can be used multiple times to reduce Parkinson’s disease symptoms, but it is not certain if the same effect will be achieved after multiple procedures.”

“Until the discovery of the process of creating iPSCs, the only stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s disease required the use of embryonic stem cells. This made research more difficult.”

Stem cells have been used in clinical trials for many conditions involving neural damage with mixed results.

The first clinical trial using iPSCs to treat Parkinson’s disease was in 2018 in Japan. It was a very small trial with only seven participants. Other trials have been completed using animal models.

So far, trials have shown improvement to symptoms affecting movement as well as nonmotor symptoms such as bladder control.

“The stem cells’ source can have some challenges.”

Stem cell therapy can be thought of as being similar to an organ transplant. If the iPSCs are derived from a donor, you may need to use immunosuppressant drugs to prevent your body from rejecting the cells.

Your body might be less likely to reject iPSCs if they are derived from your own cells. Stem cell therapy will be delayed because of this, experts believe. This will be more expensive than using a donor line.

There are many symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. They’re often rated using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) or the Movement Disorder Society’s updated revision of that scale, the MDS-UPDRS.

“Clinical trials are looking to improve the scores for people with Parkinson’s disease.”

Some trials are testing new delivery methods, such as intravenous infusion or topical applications. Others are looking to determine the safest number of effective doses. And other trials are measuring overall safety while using new medical devices in stem cell therapy.

This is a research area. Future trials will help narrow down the most effective and safe approach to stem cell therapy.

Clinical trials are usually conducted in three phases. Each phase adds more participants, with the first phase usually limited to a few dozen people and several thousand in the third phase. The purpose is to test the treatment’s safety and effectiveness.

“Stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease is still in the early stages of trials. It will likely be at least 4 to 8 years before this treatment is widely available.”

Participating in clinical trials

Ongoing clinical trials for treating Parkinson’s disease using stem cell therapy may be available in your area. If this is something you’re interested in, check back regularly, as new trials may be added later.

Mention your intentions to the doctor or healthcare professional. They may have more information for you.

“Stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease is to replace brain cells that have been destroyed with healthy, undifferentiated stem cells. Stem cells can be turned into brain cells and help regulate dopamine levels. Many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be alleviated.”

“The therapy is still in its infancy. Many trials are either proposed or currently recruiting. Stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease could become widely available if the trials are a success.”

At the moment, it’s not believed that stem cell therapy will cure Parkinson’s disease. But it might be an alternative to existing treatments such as drug therapies and deep brain stimulation.