Our stem cell research

We've invested more than £3million in cutting-edge stem cell research, which we believe holds great potential for Parkinson's.

Stem cells and Parkinson's

Our animation explains what stem cells are and how we may be able to grow new dopamine-producing cells to treat Parkinson's if we can harness their power.

Why do stem cells hold potential for Parkinson's?

Stem cells are 'unspecialised' cells which can develop into almost any cell in the body. They are found in early embryos, foetuses, umbilical cords and also in some adult tissues. 

What makes them so exciting for Parkinson's research is that they have the potential to grow into new nerve cells that could be used to replace those lost in the Parkinson's brain.

Studies on stem cells are still at an early stage and, as yet, no appropriate clinical trials have been carried out. Stem cells treatments will only become available to people with Parkinson's once they have been thoroughly tested and proven to be safe.

Challenges for stem cell research

Using stem cells to treat Parkinson's is a realistic possibility. But there are a number of key challenges we still we need to tackle first: 

  • How to grow large quantities of dopamine-producing nerve cells.
  • How to make sure new nerve cells survive.
  • How to get transplanted cells to connect and work normally inside the brain.
  • How to control newly transplanted cells to prevent tumours forming.

Our current stem cell projects

Can cell transplants improve non-motor symptoms?

Parkinson's is often thought of as a condition that only affects movement. But research has shown that most people with the condition also experience non-motor symptoms such as pain, anxiety, sleep problems and fatigue.

These non-motor symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage and have a huge impact on quality of life. We desperately need treatments for Parkinson's that go beyond movement symptoms - and treatments that can reverse the damage that occurs inside the brain in the condition. Cell transplants offer great hope on both these fronts.

Dr Mariah Lelos and her team at the University of Cardiff will study whether transplanting stem cells into the brain can improve both movement symptoms, and non-motor symptoms such as problems with thinking, memory, anxiety and smell.

Mariah will then use specially designed viruses to genetically control the dopamine-producing nerve cells, by turning them on and off. This will allow the team to understand more about how these cells work and form connections with the brain.

Using stem cells to improve non-motor symptoms

Dr Mariah Lelos is a research fellow at the University of Cardiff. Her research project is investigating how stem cells could be used to improve the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's.

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