Parkinson’s Disease and stem cells

Parkinson’s disease is caused when nerve cells degenerate and levels of dopamine are reduced. Dopamine is a chemical produced by nerve cells in the brain which sends signals to the part of the brain which controls movement. When there is insufficient dopamine movements can become jerky and uncontrolled.[1] Parkinson’s is a progressive condition which can impact considerably on the quality of life of sufferers.

While Parkinson’s is not fatal it can affect the life expectancy of sufferers. 1 in 20 people with Parkinson’s disease are under the age of 40 when diagnosed.[2] One study found that the earlier the onset of Parkinson’s disease the great life expectancy reduced.[3]

There are approximately 127,000 people in the UK with Parkinson’s disease.[4] Current treatments are symptomatic and while there is currently no cure, stem cell research could hold the key to finding one.

Parkinson’s costs the UK £2 billion a year.[5] Only 7% of costs accrued in the UK are associated with direct medical care; the remaining 93% accounted for direct non-medical professional care and indirect informal care.[6]

Parkinson’s Disease Facts

  • Every hour someone in the UK is told they have Parkinson’s [7]
  • The condition affects 1 in 500 people in the UK [7]
  • Men are more likely to affected by than women [8]
  • 10,000 people are diagnosed ever year [2]
  • Most people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are over the age of 60 [2]
  • In the UK there are: 107,835 people with Parkinson’s disease in England, 10,019 in Scotland, 5,890 in Wales and 3,147 in Northern Ireland [9]

Parkinson’s Disease and Stem Cells

Researchers are creating induced pluripotent stem cells from patients with Parkinson’s to create dopamine neurons. This will enable researchers to study why cells degenerate and to test new drugs in human neurons for the first time.[10]

The reason cancer therapies have been able to progress so greatly is, in part, because researchers can take biopsies from human tumours and use those cells to design drugs. Stem cells have the potential to enable scientists to study neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, comparatively.[10]

A study in China used mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat Parkinson’s disease. While the study was small it found that there was improvement in clinical symptoms and improved the quality of life to some extent.[11]

There are currently 14 clinical trials investigating the application of stem cells in Parkinson’s disease, one trial is recruiting patient’s to investigate the effect of autologous stem cells derived from the patients’ own fat tissue. The study (NCT02184546) is expected to complete in July 2018.[12]



The information contained in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical expert. If you have any concerns about your health we urge you to discuss them with your doctor.


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