Could Parkinson's be cured by therapeutic cloning?

Stem cells produced by therapeutic cloning have been shown to be effective at treating Parkinson's disease, according to media reports.

US researchers saw an improvement in the condition of mice that had Parkinson's after cloned dopamine cells were grafted onto their brains. Scientists are hopeful that a similar approach could be used to treat Parkinson's in humans.

What is the research?
Reports are based on a US study that investigated whether therapeutic cloning could be used to treat Parkinson's in mice.

The researchers extracted skin cells from the tails of 24 mice with Parkinson's disease. They removed the nucleus from each cell and implanted these into egg cells which had their own nuclei removed.

The egg cells were left to grow into embryonic stem cells which were then developed into mature dopamine neurons - the missing neurons in Parkinson's disease.

The researchers then grafted 100,000 dopamine cells into the affected region of the brain in each of the mice. The mice were monitored for 11 weeks during which they were tested on the skills that typically worsen in Parkinson's.

After 11 weeks the treatment had brought about a marked improvement in behavioural symptoms of the disease in all of the mice. No signs of tissue rejection were seen as the dopamine cells were transplanted into the same mice from which they were developed.

What do the researchers say?
Writing in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers of the study, led by Dr Lorenz Studer from the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York, concluded that the 'mice that received congenic grafts showed improvements in behavioural scores'.

'It demonstrates the feasibility of treating individual Parkinsonian mice via therapeutic cloning and suggests considerable potential for the future,' they said.

What do other researchers say?
Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and development at the Parkinson's Disease Society, said: 'One of the many technical challenges scientists need to overcome, before stem cell therapy can become an effective treatment for people with Parkinson's, is ensuring that cells produce dopamine neurons that survive after transplantation.

'Researchers in this area need to carry out more studies to satisfy safety concerns and to make the process more efficient before these studies are carried out on people living with Parkinson's.'

Nature Medicine Online 2008

Informing patients

  • Mice treated with therapeutic cloning showed fewer symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
  • No signs of tissue rejection were observed during the study.
  • Further research is required before therapeutic cloning can be used to treat humans with Parkinson's.
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