Intranasal Stem Cells Improve Motor Function in Parkinson's


Scientists have been able to improve motor function in Parkinson’s disease using stem cells delivered through the nose (intranasal). The stem cells were shown to move rapidly to the damaged areas of the brain.

Stem cell treatment of Parkinson’s is promising

Research regarding neural (nerve) cell transplantation as a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease has been underway since the early 1990s. That’s when scientists transplanted neurons from the human embryonic brain into the brain of patients who had Parkinson’s and saw long-lasting therapeutic benefits.

Subsequent studies using this approach, however, were mostly negative, and some patients developed involuntary movements, termed graft-induced dyskinesias, as side effects. Although research in the area of neural cell transplantation continues, the potential for stem cell transplantation has grown.

In this latest study, co-author William H. Frey II, PhD, director of the Alzheimer’s Research Center (part of HealthPartners Research Foundation), and Lusine Danielyan, MD, of University Hospital of Tubingen in Germany, reported on the results of their latest work using stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease.

The scientists used a rat model of the disease to show that many of the stem cells they delivered intranasally survived for at least six months in the brain, and that the stem cells rapidly moved to damaged areas of the brain. Motor function in the treated rats also improved.


The positive effects seen in this study are believed to have occurred because the stem cells, which were harvested from bone marrow, produced anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects in the damaged brain regions.

In 2009, scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, reported on the world’s first clinical trial using autologous (derived from the patient) neural stem cells for treatment of Parkinson’s. Although only one patient was treated, the authors reported that the individual’s motor scales improved by more than 80 percent for at least 36 months.

Approximately 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson’s disease, and more than 50,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, according to the National Parkinson Foundation. This neurodegenerative brain disorder, which currently has no cure, occurs when brain cells (neurons) that produce a chemical called dopamine are damaged.

Dopamine is necessary for motor control and muscle movement. When damaged cells cannot produce dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease develop. These include tremors at rest, slow movement (bradykinesia), rigidity or stiffness of the extremities and trunk, and problems with balance. Current treatment options include medications, surgery, and deep brain stimulation.

The intranasal delivery of stem cells to treat Parkinson’s disease may be a promising alternative for patients who have this debilitating disease that severely compromises motor function and quality of life. Additional research will explore how to increase the number of stem cells delivered to the brain and improve the benefits of such treatment.

Brundin P et al Progress in Brain Research 2010; 184: 265-94
Danielyan L et al. Rejuvenation Research 2011 Feb 3
National Parkinson Foundation