In January this year a team of Boston and Japanese scientists discovered a remarkable yet simple way to create stem cells. Stem cells are able to give rise to any tissue in the body yet have previously been subject to controversy due to originating in human embryos.
The new discovery means that mature cells – from skin or blood – can be transformed into powerful stem cells that are a biological blank slate. Scientists are now racing to develop therapies for a wide range of diseases using these cells.
Researchers at Japan’s Kyoto university plan to start clinical research on a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease using these induced pluripotent stem cells. These stem cells have the ability to develop into many different cell types and researchers have been exploring ways to use them to repair damaged tissue.
One such cell that can be created from these stem cells are dopamine-making nerve cells, or neurons. Researchers are using iPS cells and hope to test how this discovery could be put to the test to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain illness that causes a multitude of problems including tremors, rigidity and slow movements. It is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain, which in turn results in a lack of dopamine. Without dopamine people can find that their movements become slower.
As well as affecting movement, people with Parkinson’s can find that other issues, such as tiredness, pain, depression and constipation, can have an impact on their day-to-day lives.
It affects about one in every 200 people worldwide and to date there is no cure.
Stem cells have great potential in Parkinson’s research because they can be programmed to develop neurons, which can then be transplanted into the brains of sufferers of the disease.
They plan to start selecting patients for the clinical trials with testing starting as early as summer of 2015.
Now that stem cells are much easier to manufacture, the pace of research is going to gain a lot of momentum with many breakthroughs just over the horizon.
This advancement will lead to rapid and effective treatments for many previously difficult to treat degenerative tissue conditions, including various brain diseases and many other forms of physical damage.
The biggest breakthrough will come when we have the ability to detect such things as dopamine levels unobtrusively with our mobile computing devices.
Mobile devices are already making big strides in personal health and will surely be used in future for prevention of many adverse health conditions. Imagine the power of being able to track dopamine levels over time and give warnings based on biological degradation, which, by the time this technology is available, would be cured using the stem cell technology described above.