The researchers, as reported in Stem Cells, have in fact succeeded, through a transplant of neurons, to restore motor functions in the brains of rats affected by an animal model of Parkinson's disease.
A "big breakthrough" in the fight against the disease, although, for now, the testing of the method on humans seems still relatively far away: according to the authors of the study, it will take at least three more years before starting clinical trials in humans.
Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disease that is currently incurable and affects millions of people around the world. In particular, the disorder causes the death of dopaminergic neurons, responsible for the release of a neurotransmitter (dopamine, precisely) involved in the regulation of behavior and movement. To simulate the disease, Lund's scientists destroyed dopaminergic neurons in a cerebral hemisphere of rats; subsequently, they cultivated human embryonic stem cells in the laboratory and managed to transform them into real dopaminergic neurons.
The cells thus obtained were then injected into the brains of rats, and researchers found that they were perfectly capable of imitating the characteristics of damaged neurons.
Not only that: the new neurons showed the ability to reconnect with the cells of the host tissue, creating a dense network of ramifications that reached the target brain areas. Malin Parmar, associate professor of developmental and regenerative neurobiology and author of the study, said that "this is a big step forward in the fight against Parkinson's disease and on the road to clinical trials".
The research was carried out in the context of the European consortia Neurostemcell and Neurostemcellrepair, led by Elena Cattaneo. And it could have important consequences also in other fields: "The conquest of Malin Parmar in the model of Parkinson also reveals important aspects for us who in Milan work on the Huntington", said the scientist and senator for life. "These consortia accelerate the study paths in many directions.
We were able to know the Swedish results before time, discuss them, incorporate them into our experiments. In this perspective, European collaboration emerges once again as something enormously valuable and from which, for no reason, our societies should distance themselves".