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Cloning Cures Parkinson's -- in Mice

First Use of Cloned Stem Cells to Treat Brain Disorder
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WebMD Health News

Sept. 22, 2003 -- A new technique may help stem cell research move out of the laboratory and into more animals, including humans.

In the first example of using cloning to treat a brain-related disorder, researchers have successfully used cloned mouse stem cells to generate sufficient and specific cells to treat mice with a Parkinson's disease-type condition.

Researchers say it's only the second report of successful therapeutic cloning in animals.

The ultimate goal of successful therapeutic cloning is to create healthy, specialized cells to replace those damaged by disease. By using the patient's own cells and modifying them in the laboratory, the specialized cells are genetically identical to the patient and can be transplanted without the risk of rejection.

In this study, researchers were able to transplant cloned mouse dopamine cells directly into mice with Parkinson's disease and relieve their symptoms.

People with Parkinson's disease experience a loss of the brain chemical known as dopamine. This loss of dopamine produces problems in motor function and muscle stiffness.

Many of the drugs currently used to treat Parkinson's disease attempt to replace lost dopamine in order to lessen these symptoms.

A Better Way to Clone

Researchers say that until now, the procedures necessary to clone embryonic stem cells in the lab were too time-intensive and raised some safety concerns in previous studies in mice. Embryonic stem cells are used in cloning research because they are the simplest form of cells and provide the building blocks for growing all of the more specialized cells.

In this study, published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers used a new cloning technique that allowed them to produce specialized dopamine cells from mouse embryonic stem cells in less time and with less risk than in previous studies. When transplanted into mice with Parkinson's disease, these cloned dopamine cells survived and alleviated the symptoms of the disease.

Researcher Tiziano Barberi, of the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, and colleagues say the new method offers a simpler, more rapid, and versatile means to produce cloned stem cells for the treatment of a wide variety of brain disorders, including Parkinson's disease.

But they say that although the use of cloned stem cells holds great promise for treating many diseases, it has not yet been tested in humans.

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