Shaking hands. Unstable walking. Unclear speech.
These are symptoms of Parkinson’s, the second most common degenerative brain disease, according to ScienceDaily. Long considered incurable but treatable, Parkinson’s can be debilitating, often requiring significant medications or changes to lifestyle.
The development of Parkinson’s focuses on the loss of a special type of brain cell — dopaminergic neurons.
Usually, we try to replace those lost neurons with tissues from the adrenal medulla and fetal midbrain tissues from allogeneic or xenogeneic sources; in other words, from a same-species but an immunologically incompatible organism, or from an organism of another species entirely.
Using cells from another individual, however, is prone to rejection upon implantation because of the body’s own immune response.
Impressively, doctors at McLean Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital have recently demonstrated the feasibility of using a patient’s own reprogrammed cells (in this case, readily available skin cells), so as to not be rejected upon implantation, according to their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Led by Dr. Kwang-Soo Kim, this team of doctors worked with 69-year-old patient’s skin cells, “resetting” them to embryo-like pluripotent stem cells, and then differentiating them to resemble the lost dopaminergic neurons.
To transplant, these neurons, the report’s lead author, Jeffrey Schweitzer along with Bob Carter and Michael G. Kaplitt designed a novel minimally invasive procedure to deliver the cells. This procedure was used twice, once in 2017 and 2018, on the patient.
The report also shares that two years later, the cells seem to be alive and properly functioning as dopaminergic neurons, without triggering any immune response and without requiring any immunosuppressant drugs.
This personalized cell-replacement strategy, then, seems to be a success so far. No side effects, unwanted growth or tumors have shown up. The patient is gradually returning to pre-Parkinson’s quality of life.
Formal clinical trials hopefully will better show whether this treatment is viable; personalized medicine for Parkinson’s is becoming more and more real.