Blindness and Parkinson’s: first stem cell tests

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In an unprecedented approach, a group of surgeons in Zhengzhou plan to inject stem cells created from human embryos into the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson’s in an attempt to cure their debilitating symptoms, and another team in the same city plans to use Embryonic stem cells, to replace the damaged cells in the retina.

In Australia, a similar approach has been taken, but because of ethical concerns, this approach was based on egg cells that were not fertilized, but the stem cells from the embryo, are the best approach for this type of treatments. This type of cells is the base of any tissue in our body, and if we regress in time, our whole body, will be composed of a group of less specific cells, which originated from a single stem cell, with the ability to evolve into anything practically.

The symptoms of Parksinson’s disease derive mostly from the loss of nerve tissue in the inner part of the brain, more specifically in the area knows as basal ganglia, and these are responsible, among others, for motor coordination, emotions, and cognition.

By losing these cells, you also lose a neurotransmitter known as dopamine, which is responsible for controlling part of the nerve impulses that prevent the ends of the muscles to being activated without any kind of control.

On the condition known as Macular Degeneration, the damage to the layer of tissue known as Retinal Pigment Epithelium in the back of the eye, causes the light-collecting cells above it, to die.

By making embryonic stem cells into cells that can evolve into damaged tissues, such as the tissues of the cases cited above, and by injecting them into the affected area, the researchers believe they will at least achieve some recovery of the lost functions, but not everyone is convinced about the success of this approach.

Stem cell biologist, Jeanne Loring, from the Scripps Research Institute in California believes that the cell used in either trial may not become sufficiently specific to achieve the desired results since there is no certainty of exactly in which type these cells will become.

However, the research team remains optimistic because of the four-year of tests done in monkeys, which have shown very promising results, and all imaging, behavior and molecular data demonstrate the potential efficacy of the approach. In addition, the team was very strict in selecting the candidates for the tests, choosing patients who showed less probability of rejection of embryonic stem cells.

If the results are as good as they seem to promise, we may be facing a giant and important step in the treatment of these degenerative diseases, hopefully it will achieve success!

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