Stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s disease is a promising experimental therapy. It uses stem cells to replace damaged or dysfunctional cells in the hope of restoring functioning and slowing or reversing the progress of Parkinson’s disease. It is not yet widely available or part of the standard of care.

Parkinson’s disease causes the loss of dopaminergic neurons. These neurons help release and regulate dopamine, which plays a key role in many different bodily functions, especially those involving movement, thinking, motivation, and mood.

Stem cell therapy aims to replace the failing dopaminergic neurons. Doctors have already proved it effective in treating other diseases. So far, stem cell therapy has not cured anyone of Parkinson’s disease. However, research has shown significant progress, and future clinical trials may better define the right way to use stem cells and even produce a reduction in symptoms.

For now, this is an experimental treatment. Some people with Parkinson’s disease may be able to participate in clinical trials.

This article explores how stem cell therapy can aid people with Parkinson’s disease. It will also detail the benefits, risk factors, and other treatments.

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Stem cell therapy has not yet treated or cured Parkinson’s disease. Instead, clinical trials are in the early stage of research, although new trials have shown some progress.

If stem cell therapy is effective, it could replace damaged or destroyed neurons, either stopping the progression of the disease or reversing it altogether. However, these benefits remain theoretical.

Learn more about Parkinson’s disease.

A number of clinical trials of stem cell therapy for Parkinson’s disease are already underway. The current roster of trials are all in the early stages. Most are in phase 1, which demonstrates the safety of an intervention.

Some will soon move into phase 2, which proves the effectiveness of the intervention in a group of participants.

In June 2023, the Bayer subsidiary BlueRock was the first company to report initial progress in the use of stem cells for treating Parkinson’s disease. In a phase 1 clinical trial, participants tolerated the therapy well, suggesting it is safe to proceed to phase 2 clinical trials.

Additionally, the implanted stem cells grew as expected in the participants’ brains.

Learn more about stem cell therapy.

Stem cell therapy uses stem cells, which are a type of undifferentiated cell that can grow into any type of cell. Stem cells usually come from embryos, but scientists can also revert skin and blood cells to an embryo-like state. These are known as pluripotent stem cells.

Researchers have already used stem cells to treat some illnesses, especially those that involve cell destruction or dysfunction.

Because Parkinson’s disease involves the destruction of dopaminergic neurons that produce dopamine, stem cell therapy could theoretically replace the destroyed neurons and allow the brain to begin producing healthy levels of dopamine again.

Clinical trials of stem cell therapy are in their infancy, though, and have not yet shown that it can treat Parkinson’s disease. A single case report did find that a stem cell transplant restored motor function in a person without any adverse effects.

Learn more about how stem cells can repair the brain in Parkinson’s disease.

Theoretically, stem cell therapy could treat Parkinson’s disease. Even if it does not produce a total cure, it might slow the progression of the disease or perhaps help reduce the severity of symptoms. These benefits, though, remain theoretical and unproven.

Additionally, stem cell therapy might reduce or eliminate the need for medication that can cause significant side effects. In doing so, it could prolong independence, improve quality of life, and reduce people’s anxiety about their diagnosis and future.

Learn more about other research trials of stem cells and Parkinson’s disease.

Because stem cell research is only in its early stages, researchers have not identified all possible risks.

The procedure itself poses some risks, including tumor formation in the brain following the transplant. There is also a small risk of infection.

Different options exist for growing and harvesting stem cells. Stem cells usually come from embryos or from certain tissue that scientists can restore to an embryonic state.

During the procedure, a doctor injects stem cells directly into the brain, usually in the substantia nigra, which houses dopaminergic neurons. The stem cells should then begin growing and reproducing, potentially restoring function, although this benefit remains theoretical, not proven.

Stem cell treatment remains an experimental therapy for Parkinson’s disease, and people cannot access it except through a clinical trial.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and no disease-modifying agents exist. Instead, treatment focuses on managing symptoms. The standard treatments include:

  • Levodopa: This helps promote dopamine in the brain and can control symptoms for 3–6 years. Doctors usually combine it with Cabidopa, which can decrease side effects.
  • Selegiline: This may offer additional benefits early in the disease course.
  • Dopamine agonists such as Ropinirole or Pramipexole: In young people with Parkinson’s, these medications can help with symptoms. They are less effective than Levodopa but also cause fewer side effects.
  • Symptom management: For example, a doctor may recommend sildenafil for erectile dysfunction.
  • Social support: Education about the disease, support from friends and family, and a plan to support a person as their symptoms and needs change may ease anxiety.
  • Psychological support: This may include psychotherapy, support groups, and medications to manage depression.

People tend to become less responsive to medication with time. Medication can also cause side effects, including serious side effects such as psychosis. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor about options for managing these side effects.

Learn more about treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is a serious neurodegenerative condition. While medication can control symptoms for a few years, it eventually does not work as well. Symptoms tend to worsen and can cause significant disability and death.

Stem cell therapy offers a potential cure. It has not yet cured anyone with Parkinson’s disease, but if it works, it could revolutionize Parkinson’s disease treatment. Over the next few years, it may become clear whether it is a viable treatment and how well it works.