Getting closer to a stem cell therapy for Parkinson's disease

July 15, 2013

HSCI scientists have developed new ways to identify, grow, sort, and transplant the dopamine-producing cells that are lost in Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, they have learned how to identify and remove unwanted cells prior to transplantation, such as cells that produce cerebrospinal fluid.

HSCI Principal Faculty member Ole Isacson, MD, and colleagues tested their new methodologies by using skin cells from primates to create dopamine-producing neurons, which they could isolate from the surrounding background cells, and implant into the brains of the animals.

“This is an important step in the evolution of neuronal cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease,” Isacson said. “We refined the protocol, found a way of eliminating cells that we think may be dangerous, and we’ve shown for the first time that you can at least get short-term survival of a primate host’s own cells.”

Isacson, his postdoctoral fellow Maria Sundberg, PhD, and their associates at Harvard Medical School’s Neuroregeneration Laboratories and McLean Hospital have already shown that transplanted tissues can restore motor function when integrated into rodent brain tissue. Their next step is to explore whether these safer techniques can have positive behavioral impacts on primate subjects.

“This scientific work is critical for developing ground-breaking therapies that can reach patients,” Isacson said. “We see it as a big task to define all of the parameters right now, so we can really come to the point where we have predictable clinical trials.”

The research was funded by the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Translational Neuroscience Fund, the National Institutes of Health, the Orchard Foundation, the Harold and Ronna Cooper family, the Consolidated Anti-Aging Foundation, the Poul Hansen family, the National Center for Research Resources, and the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs.

Source: Improved Cell Therapy Protocol for Parkinson’s Disease Based on Differentiation Efficiency and Safety of Hesc-, Hipsc, and Non-Human Primate Ipsc-Derived DA Neurons. Stem Cells. May 10, 2013.

Photo: PSC-derived dopamine-producing neurons (Credit: Ole Isacson/Stem Cell)