A new study is underway that is testing the safety of using mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to improve the motor function of patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease. Mesenchymal stem cells are also known as “stromal cells” due to the fact that they are isolated from the stroma. They were first discovered in bone marrow and have been recently grown from other tissues, such as fat, and perinatal tissues as umbilical cord tissue (Wharton jelly MSC9, placenta, amniotic fluid, and others). Interestingly, MSCs are thought to have immunomodulatory effects, which makes these cells a perfect candidate for Parkinson’s disease treatment.
The study is only in the third of twelve months, but the results are so promising that the researchers decided to present their preliminary findings at the 2019 American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting. The early findings indicate that mesenchymal stem cells are safe and have improved the motor function in more than half of the patients involved in the trial. These specific stem cells should help the chronic neuroinflammation associated with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease affects more than 6.2 million people and results in the death of more than 100,000 people each year. The disease is tragic and ruins the quality of life of patients that contract the disease. Scientists and families alike are desperate for treatment that can make a difference in the lives of those living with Parkinson’s. This research gives patients a glimmer of hope into future treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
‘Preliminary Report on the Safety and Tolerability of Bone marrow-derived Allogeneic Mesenchymal Stem Cells infused intravenously in Parkinson’s disease Patients’ could be the first landmark study on the effects of MSCs on Parkinson’s disease.
Unlike many stem cell treatments where stem cells are taken right from your own body, in this study stem cells were taken from the bone marrow of a healthy adult. After they were extracted from the adult, the stem cells were purified and then injected into the patient’s blood stream. It is important to note that the patients all had Parkinson’s disease where the cause was completely unknown. Researchers had no way of knowing how they would react to the treatment and what the results would be.
There were a total of 20 patients involved in the study, with ages ranging 45 to 78 years old. All of the patients were on the popular Parkinson’s drug levodopa. The issue that the patients were experiencing was that levodopa was becoming less effective against the disease. Finding any alternative treatments for Parkinson’s that is effective is a task that most patients fail at. The patients were all stage 3 or less in the Hoehn & Yahr (H&Y) scale, thus signifying that they had mild-to-moderate levels of Parkinson’s disease.
Patients were all given one of four doses of MSCs in order to attempt to find an effective dosage. The patients were evaluated after one week, three weeks, and twelve weeks. The study is successful thus far, which means the patients will be evaluated again after 24 weeks and 52 weeks.
The age old adage of ‘safety first’ applies to even the most experimental and controversial medical studies. This is exactly why the primary focus of this study was to evaluate whether or not this medical treatment was safe for patients. The researchers needed to ensure that there were no transfusion reactions, adverse events, or organ damage in any of the patients. The secondary goal of the study was to evaluate if the treatment slowed the progression of the disease at all.
The patients would be evaluated by a number of markers including a balance and mobility test, a measure of health and quality of life, neuroimaging, and an immunologic profile. Everything that could be evaluated would be, since researchers need to be able to pinpoint the exact methods and treatments that make a difference.
Incredibly, zero patients experienced any negative side effects within 24-hours of receiving the initial treatment dose. In their follow ups, patients complained about very minor problems. The most frequent side effects that patients noted were hypertension, arthralgia (pain in a joint), and nausea. None of these side effects lasted a significant amount of time and none of the patients required any treatment due to the side effects.
That is one part of the study that has been validated, meaning we can say with some confidence that using MSCs as a medical treatment for Parkinson’s disease is safe for patients.
Now onto the slowed progression of the disease. 14 of the 20 patients showed improvement in their motor skills after just 12 weeks. It is astounding that so many of the patients improved their motor skills. There is no information available on the other factors, such as quality of life, that are used to evaluate Parkinson’s disease in a patient. Some of these factors may not be able to be evaluated after just 12 weeks; there will certainly be more information after 24 and 52 weeks.
The end game of the study is to find a tolerable dose of MSCs that will improve cognition, motor function, and disability in patients. The researchers are well on their way to meeting their goal and improving the quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease.
This study is worth keeping an eye on. The safety of the test appears to be valid, as all the side effects were minor compared to the severity of Parkinson's –– plus none of the side effects required treatment. A larger study with the same treatment will have to be completed before we can officially rejoice in a powerful new treatment for Parkinson’s disease but patients, families, and scientists should be cautiously optimistic about the results of this study. It certainly shows some serious promise.
Stem cell treatment for Parkinson's disease is slowly but surely becoming a more viable treatment option. There are countless factors that go into a poorly understood disease such as Parkinson’s. Patients should consult with their healthcare professional(s) before using MSCs as a treatment method for Parkinson’s disease.