Monday, November 3, 2008

Embryonic Stem Cells Offer Hope of Parkinson's Cure

Researchers in Scotland are moving closer to developing treatments for Parkinson's disease using stem cells, a conference will hear this week.

The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University has been turning embryonic stem cells into a cell type lost in Parkinson's patients.

Dr. Tilo Kunath, who has been working on the project, said the ultimate aim was to create enough appropriate cells to inject into the brains of patients to reverse the effects of the neurological condition.

With several hurdles still to overcome, it could be 20 years before a treatment is ready for widespread use.

But Dr. Kunath will tell the conference in York entitled Progress: Advancing Parkinson's Research about the steps his team has taken towards creating the vital cells in their lab. Speaking ahead of the meeting, which starts today, Dr. Kunath told The Scotsman he was confident a cure would be found.

Parkinson's, which affects about 120,000 people in the UK, is caused by a loss of neurons in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine. The disease causes problems with walking, writing and speaking, with symptoms including tremors and rigid muscles. There is currently no cure.

Dr. Kunath, a Parkinson's Disease Society research fellow, said the team had been working with embryonic stem cells early-stage cells with the potential to develop into almost any type of cell, including neural cells.

The embryonic stem cells are coaxed into becoming specialized neural cells over several days using a specifically formulated culture medium.

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