La grande sfida di questi tempi è trovare il modo per intervenire e curare le malattie neurodegenerative come l’Alzheimer o il Parkinson. I clinical trial deludono, molto probabilmente per una tardiva diagnosi della malattia, che si manifesta con una ventina di anni in anticipo sulla diagnosi rimanendo però asintomatica.
Un’alternativa al trattamento farmacologico potrebbe essere quello di usare infusione di cellule nel cervello, quindi una nuova strada potrebbe essere percorsa.
Purtroppo la soluzione è però ancora lontana.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder a. resulting from the depletion of dopamine-producing cells in the area of the brain called substantia nigra.
The progression of the disease foresees the arising of characteristic symptoms as tremors, muscle rigidity, sleep disturbances, bradykinesia, then it leads to cognitive decline and, in the final stages, to dementia.
Around 28 years ago in Sweden a pioneering treatment involved the injection of fetal brain cells into the brain of PD patients.
Two trials in the US reported that there were no benefits from this procedure within the two first years following the injections, so the procedure was abandoned.
Actually the patients improved dramatically their cognitive functions, but long time after the trials ended, around three or more years after the implants.
The reason is that it may take several years for fetal cells to create connections with the resident cells in the brain.
Only when the connections are created, the implanted cells can start releasing the dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter whose low level is responsible of the symptoms in PD.
Since the improvements were not noticed, the idea of injecting fetal brain cells was not pursued until now when at the Addenbrooke´s Hospital in Cambridge the procedure was revived. A man received the injection of fetal cells, and physicians are optimistic that he can recover full controls of his movements within 5 years.
The problem is that the team did not have enough cells to give the man a full treatment, they were only able to inject half of the brain´s man, but they hope to treat the other half soon. Their future plan is to treat 19 people in a cooperative trial between Cambridge and Sweden, but all depends on the availability of fetal cells from women terminating pregnancies.
If the injection of cells is a potential strategy to cure PD, an alternative to fetal cells could be stem cells, which are undifferentiated cells that efficiently undergo differentiation in order to become specialized.
Thus, it is imaginable to differentiate stem cells to dopamine-producing cells and then use these cells for the injection into the brain of PD patients.
The use of stem cells can solve both the supply problem due to the donations of fetal cells and the problem due to a lack of scheduling, since nobody can predict when a donation will occur.
In conclusion, it seems that the scientific community is working hard testing different ways to delay the progression of the disease and/or cure the disease itself.
We all know that the scientific progress is a slow process, nevertheless it will end up with a stunning discovery.
Livia Civitelli, PhD
Università di Linkoping Svezia - IKE
Credits Image - Brain Vector by Pauldizonr