Research in Parkinson's disease has made remarkable progress. There is very real hope that the causes, whether genetic or environmental, will be identified and the precise effects of these causes on brain function will be understood.
Researchers continue developing new treatments for Parkinson's disease, treatments that give real hope for people suffering with the disease. Some treatments currently being studied involve fetal cell transplantation, the use of stem cells, and gene therapy.
Michael J. Fox has always been a poster boy. With his youthful good looks and intelligent charm, he rose to fame playing a sassy Republican teenage son of ex-hippie parents in the TV sitcom Family Ties. In the blockbuster Back to the Future film trilogy, he was a time traveler with perfect comedic timing. And in a later sitcom, Spin City, he made us wish all politicians were as personable as his Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty.
In 1998, Fox became a poster boy for another reason: He went public with...
Fetal cell transplantation is a procedure in which fetal cells are implanted into the brains of people with Parkinson's disease to replace the dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra. Although promising, this area of research is one of the most controversial. Some studies have found that fetal cell transplantation caused an increase in severe involuntary movements (dyskinesia) due to too much dopamine in the brain. There are also moral and ethical objections to the use of fetal cell implants. As a result, other methods of treatment are being explored.
How Could Stem Cells Help People With Parkinson's?
Stem cells are the parent cells of all tissues in the body. This means they can turn in to any type of cell. The hope is that they will eventually be able to make these cells into specific types of cells, like dopamine-producing neurons, that can be used to treat Parkinson's disease. However, there are concerns that patients may have the same risk of increased involuntary movements as those who undergo fetal cell transplantation. And, like fetal cell transplantation, stem cell therapy is surrounded by moral and ethical controversy.
What Kinds of Genetic Research Is Being Done?
Researchers are investigating genes that code proteins responsible for producing dopamine. By increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain, Parkinson's symptoms can be minimized if not prevented.
What other treatments are being researched?
Drug treatments. Researchers are investigating drugs that block the action of glutamate, an amino acid that destroys nerve cells, as well as the role of the antioxidant coenzyme Q-10 in slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease.
Neural growth factor. Preliminary studies have shown that neural growth factor (a chemical that stimulates nerves to grow) revives the dormant cells needed to produce dopamine, dramatically improving symptoms.
Deep brain stimulation. Research is underway to better understand how deep brain stimulation works in Parkinson's disease. Researchers are also studying improved ways of stimulating the brain.