Cell therapy in Parkinson’s disease
The clinical studies with intrastriatal transplants of fetal mesencephalic tissue in Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients have provided proof-of-principle for the cell replacement strategy in this disorder. The grafted dopaminergic neurons can reinnervate the denervated striatum, restore regulated dopamine (DA) release and movement-related frontal cortical activation, and give rise to significant symptomatic relief. In the most successful cases, patients have been able to withdrawl-dopa treatment after transplantation and resume an independent life. However, there are currently several problems linked to the use of fetal tissue: 1) lack of sufficient amounts of tissue for transplantation in a large number of patients, 2) variability of functional outcome with some patients showing major improvement and others modest if any clinical benefit, and 3) occurrence of troublesome dyskinesias in a significant proportion of patients after transplantation. Thus, neural transplantation is still at an experimental stage in PD. For the development of a clinically useful cell therapy, we need to define better criteria for patient selection and how graft placement should be optimized in each patient. We also need to explore in more detail the importance for functional outcome of the dissection and cellular composition of the graft tissue as well as of immunological mechanisms. Strategies to prevent the development of dyskinesias after grafting have to be developed. Finally, we need to generate large numbers of viable DA neurons in preparations that are standardized and quality controlled. The stem cell technology may provide a virtually unlimited source of DA neurons, but several scientific issues need to be addressed before stem cell-based therapies can be tested in PD patients.