Stem cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease: Promising treatment or Hoax? By Dr. De León

Given the fact that living with a chronic neurological disease like Parkinson’s for which there is no cure can make any of us in a moment of desperation turn to any form of treatments and therapies which promise a cure. I have recently noted an increase of talk about this subject on social media in our PD community. Unfortunately, many good people have been bamboozled into believing the hype on social media about stem cell therapy as a cure all! The people offering stem cell therapy as a cure have prayed upon the fears, and suffering of many in our community. However, it is important for me to outline the facts and discard the myths surrounding these so called new therapies that promise so much.

Let’s first look at what are stem cells and why are we so interested in stem cells as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

• They can continue to divide for a long time
• Unspecialized
• Can give rise to specialized cells

Back in the 1980’s, there were trials in which fetal dopaminergic neurons were transplanted into the brain of some patients some of who had long lasting effects. It was then proposed that in vitro dopamine cells derived from cells derived from embryonic cells and bone marrow could be harvested to produce same effect. However, as of today, there has been no evidence that in vitro cells injected/transplanted in to animals with experimental PD can then re-innervate the striatum with dopamine neurons in vivo and give rise to a considerable improvement and recovery from deficits resembling human Parkinson’s symptoms. Furthermore, in order for the recovery to be effective one must have a large quantities of dopamine neurons which has not been feasible due to extremely short survival after transplantation.
Since, there is still so much we don’t know about this extremely complex disease, finding ways to modify it has proven to be a daunting task. Nevertheless, back at the beginning of this decade there was a small study with stem cells which showed some modicum of promise. This study used adult stem cells (these can be obtain from same person -autologous or another individual-allogenic). Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Types of cells
• Embryonic- An embryonic stem cell is one that can differentiate into any cell type of the body this is known as pluripotent these then give rise to multipotent stem cells which can the. Differentiate into specialized terminal cells e.g. nervous system giving rise to different type of neurons
• Adult …they do not regenerate as well and if place in different environment these may or may not develop that areas specialized cells which means these cells have to be placed in basal ganglia to even have a chance …
• Umbilical
• Hematopoietic

Studies involving stem cells have included embryonic cells and placed into brain via olfactory nerve tract
The main problem is that most of the people claiming to have the “cure” using stem cells are using adult stem cells from the skin which remain as skin cells especially since they are given back as an intramuscular injection. Many times these develop into scar tissue or lipomas (fat tumors)causing other problems. It is also important to note that when receiving cells from another individual these must be matched for ABO blood type, Rho factors as well as gender. If implanted outside of the nervous system having a mismatch can result in antibody production as well as decrease in longevity of cells. However, if implanted in the nervous system because of blood brain barrier this is not an issue necessarily. However, the effects of this is not known as of yet because the nervous system also possess cells like macrophages and glia which are the brains immune system which can potentially attack these new cells.

In the study, I mention previously autologous totipotent stem cells were used.
These cells are capable of differentiating into any cell and give rise to an entire human organism. The cells were uncommitted to a particular cell type when used therefore potentially much more likely to develop neurons if placed in nervous system. The reason autologous cells are preferred as I mentioned before we would eliminate the need for autoimmune suppressants necessary in all transplantations when foreign cells used.

Remember not all stem cells are alike…although stem cell research is actively evolving and is currently a very dynamic field. Scientists have discovered that hematopoietic cells can be harnessed to develop into nerve cells. These types of cells have already been used to treat other medical problems. However, cells have to be extracted from bone marrow (-autologous). Plus it need the right location …into the striatum of the brain. Placing outside of basal ganglia will NOt produce the appropriate dopamine producing neurons even if placed in the brain much less if placed outside of the central nervous system. Things like temporal lobe epilepsy could potentially result if cells are placed at random in the brain causing migration to other parts of the brain.

In conclusion, what we want is autologous adult totipotent stem cells not embryonic or fetal to be placed inside the brain cavity meeting all these requirements makes for a higher likelihood of success although yet to be proven. Unless, you are participating in a trial meeting these parameters then you are allowing yourself to be part of sham therapies which on top of being extremely expensive could be deleterious to your own health. Fortunately, because of so many scammers, the FDA recently announced back in march of this year that the “wild west of stem cell therapies” is coming to an end with the introduction of a new frame work and guidelines due to the national and international pandemic of providing treatment which are not only ineffective and costly but also proven harmful. I for one could not be happier about this! People need to be held accountable for their careless actions.

As an aside: An autologous bone marrow adult totipotent stem cell study is currently taking place at UT Houston under Dr. Mya Schiess- The coordinator number to get more information can be reached at 18326329 to see if you qualify.

Copyright@2018
All rights reserved by Maria De Leon

Sources:

Lindvall O., Kokaia Z. Stem cells for the treatment of neurological disorder. Nature June 29, 2006 Vol. 441
https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/treating-parkinson-disease-with-adult-stem-cells-2329-6895.1000121.pdf
Is the wild west of stem cell therapies coming to an end? American council on science and health http://acsh.org/news/2017/11/17/

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