While existing treatments alleviate early symptoms of Parkinson's disease, the medications lose their effect as soon as the disease develops. There is also no cure yet for the neurodegenerative disease.
Now, in a medical first, a stem cell therapy designed to treat the root cause of Parkinson's has received approval for human testing.
Biotechnology company International Stem Cell Corp. (ISCO) is authorized by the Australian government to conduct a clinical trial in patients with moderate to severe Parkinson's disease. The company's subsidiary, Cyto Therapeutics, received regulatory approval from the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) of Australia.
In Cyto's future Phase I/IIa clinical trial, doctors will be able to insert replacement brain cells called neural precursor cells into 12 patients.
Neural precursor cells are slightly immature kinds of neurons and are derived from parthenogenetic stem cells. As soon as the cells are implanted, they will finish maturing in the brain into the type of neurons that the disease destroys.
The loss of neurons that create dopamine in the brain causes patients with Parkinson's to experience stiffness, tremors, and slow movements. The patients' speech will become slurred and swallowing will be difficult, eventually causing the patient to choke.
If effective, Cyto's stem cell therapy may restore the patients' normal movement.
"There is a large unmet medical need for new treatments that may halt or reverse the progression of Parkinson's disease and we believe our human neural stem cells may fill this need for the millions of people with this disease," said ISCO CEO Andrey Semechkin.
The stem cell therapy raises the likelihood of a cure for Parkinson's or the extension of relief from its symptoms. The accomplishment would also inspire the use of stem cells to treat other neurodegenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease or ALS.
ISCO has been improving its parthenogenetic technology over the years. Parthenogenetic stem cells are similar to embryonic stem cells and are valued because of their pluripotency, which is their ability to turn into nearly any kind of cell in the body.
However, people who oppose abortion also oppose the use of embryonic stem cells. ISCO says their parthenogenetic technology does not practice the killing of embryos.
In the meantime, before the clinical trial starts in early 2016, Cyto is still awaiting approval from the board of directors at The Royal Melbourne Hospital where the procedures will take place.