Saskatchewan scientists work with Harvard on new Parkinson’s research

By on September 15, 2015


(Photo by Josh Schaefer/University of Saskatchewan)
(Photo by Josh Schaefer/University of Saskatchewan)

SASKATOON – Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are teaming up with colleagues at Harvard Medical School in Boston to use stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease attacks the cells in the brain that create dopamine, a chemical that carries action signals through your brain.

Dr. Ivar Mendez of the Saskatchewan Brain Repair Program at the Saskatoon university says when this happens, it causes the loss of function, but new research is hoping to restore those.

The process involves taking stem cells from a patient’s skin or blood, and converting them into a brain stem cell which is rich in dopamine neurons.

Once they are injected into the brain, the dopamine is released and the broken links begin to be repaired.

Currently, a dopamine chemical is injected into the body with heavy immune suppression so the body will accept the chemical. In the new method, because a person’s own cells are used, the theory is their body will accept the treatment more easily.

Mendez began transplanting cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine into patients in the late 1990s while he was at Dalhousie University. All 10 patients implanted with these cells improved significantly.

Dr. Ole Isacson of Harvard says if they are successful in this research project, the cells being injected will help restore some function in patients within the first nine months of treatment.

Clinical trials are expected to start within two to three years.