A world free of Parkinson’s disease

Grandparents holding grandchildren
Parkinson’s disease can have a devastating impact on patients and their families. Regenerative medicine has the power to change that.

We have all seen the impact that Parkinson’s disease can have on the quality of life of people who develop it. Some of us have witnessed it firsthand by caring for a sick parent. For others, the debilitating effects of the disease are apparent thanks to the media coverage of high profile cases like that of Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali. In any case, it is clear just how devastating this condition can be.

While it is currently considered incurable, there are good reasons to believe that in the future, Parkinson’s will join the list of diseases that the human species has been able to overcome. Thanks to the advancements in the field of regenerative medicine scientists now have the tools to develop a solution. Find out how you can benefit from these advances by banking your cells today.

What is Parkinson’s?

The first detailed description of this disease was published by James Parkinson in 1817. Then known as “paralysis agitans”, the condition would later come to be known as Parkinson’s disease. It is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects an area of the brain called substantia nigra which plays a role in controlling movement. 

Parkinson’s disease is progressive, meaning that it gets worse over time. While it is not fatal in itself, it can lead to complications such as pneumonia which is the most frequent cause of death among people with PD.

Approximately 55,000 people are currently living with Parkinson’s in Canada. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, the number of cases worldwide exceeds 10 million.

How do you get Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s happens when brain cells, specifically those tasked with producing dopamine, die. The resulting lack of dopamine interrupts communication between the muscles and the brain. The reason for this is still unknown but certain risk factors have been identified:

  • Age. Parkinson’s usually develops in middle age, although approximately 10 percent of the patients experience the disease before age 50 (Young Onset Parkinson’s disease).
  • Family history. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 15 percent of patients have relatives who have experienced the disorder. Scientists point to gene mutations as the underlying cause in these instances.
  • Sex. Men are twice as likely as women to develop Parkinson’s, as revealed by researchers from the Italian National Research Council. Research has also found that women have a higher mortality rate and experience an accelerated progression of the disease in comparison to men.

What are the stages of Parkinson’s?

There are five stages of Parkinson’s disease. The first two are considered mild, the third is classified as moderate and the final two stages are severe. It is important to keep in mind that Parkinson’s impacts people in different ways so some patients may not experience certain symptoms or may never reach the last stage of the disease.

Stage 1. Tremors are the first symptom that patients experience. These usually begin in one hand or one side of the body. They may develop altered facial expressions as well.

Stage 2. In the second stage, tremors impact both sides of the body, and the patients experience muscle rigidity, which makes everyday tasks more demanding and compromises posture.

Stage 3. As rigidity worsens and movements become slower, the patient has more difficulty with daily activities. The risk of falls increases due to the loss of balance.

Stage 4. By stage four, patients lose independence. They require assistance with everyday tasks and are unable to live unaccompanied.

Stage 5. In the final stage of the disease, walking becomes impossible due to stiffness in the legs. Hallucinations and delusions are common.

Could regenerative medicine cure Parkinson’s?

Treatment for Parkinson’s disease, as well as other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, has largely focused on managing symptoms. So far, drugs have proven ineffective at reverting, or at the very least halting, the progression of these diseases.

Thankfully, the field of regenerative medicine has shown a path towards rehabilitation for Parkinson’s patients leveraging the power of their own cells. At the heart of this revolution are iPSCs or Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells. These are adult cells that are reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. What this means is they have the potential to become any cell type in the body.

Researchers are working with stem cells to find a cure for Parkinson's.
Teams of scientists around the world are currently carrying out clinical trials using iPSCs as a potential treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

There have been a number of very promising trials using iPSCs as a potential treatment for PD. In one of these trials, a group of Chinese scientists successfully turned iPSCs into neurons and transplanted them into primate models of Parkinson’s disease. These transplants produced behavioural improvements in most monkeys. What this means is that scientists can potentially create healthy brain cells in a lab and use them to restore function in the brain of subjects that have been affected by Parkinson’s disease.

In 2018, a team of Japanese researchers led by Professor Ryosuke Takahashi from Kyoto University Hospital began the first human clinical trial of iPSC-generated dopaminergic neurons (these are brain cells located in the substantia nigra, the area impacted by PD) transplanted to treat Parkinson’s disease. Kyoto University Hospital has revealed plans to test this method in seven patients by 2022.

Finally, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in early 2020, Jeff Schweitzer, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, and his team, implanted dopaminergic progenitor cells into a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The researchers found that clinical measures of symptoms stabilized or improved at 18 to 24 months after implantation, and the patient showed no adverse neurologic effects. This result is exciting because it shows that these procedures can be both effective and safe for the patients.

How you can take action today

The rate at which iPSC research is progressing is very promising. It is just a matter of time before these procedures are perfected and become available to the public. This could put an end to the suffering that Parkinson’s disease causes to millions of people around the world.

So what can you do today to put yourself in a position to take advantage of these exciting developments? The first step is banking at Acorn. In the future, were you to need them for treatment of Parkinson’s or any other disease, scientists could take these cells, turn them into iPSCs and use them to produce any cell type required. Consider this process insurance at a cellular level. It is painless and convenient –you can even do it from the comfort of your own home with a live cell home collection kit.

To learn more about the ways you can have your cells banked at Acorn, click here.