The Amazing Power of Stem Cells for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Other Diseases

Young woman works with microscope 2

Andrea’s father has had Parkinson’s for more than 15 years. When she visits him, she notices his motor skills are diminishing and he is becoming quite difficult to understand. She holds back her tears, as she remembers the man who used to play football with her brothers and who ran 10Ks to help others with degenerative diseases.

Andrea is pregnant with her first child. In the waiting room at the OB/GYN, she saw a brochure about harvesting and storing her placental stem cells to help her father, or possibly others with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, certain cancers and more. She was intrigued to research the possibility further.

Stem cells are truly incredible.

Stem cells are the foundation of development in plants, animals, and humans. They can come from different places in the body or are formed at different times in our lives. There are stem cells that exist in the placenta when babies are born and adult stem cells that remain in our bodies from birth and throughout our lives. What makes stem cells so amazing is that they can make copies of themselves, or self-renew. In other words, they can replace tissue that is damaged by disease or injury.

This type of treatment could be used to:

  • replace neurons damaged by spinal cord injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological problems;
  • produce insulin that could treat people with diabetes and heart muscle cells that could repair damage after a heart attack; or
  • replace virtually any tissue or organ that is injured or diseased.

The cells could be used to study disease, identify new drugs, or screen drugs for toxic side effects.

Parkinson’s Treatment with Stem Cells Lasts 24 Years

A stem cell treatment for Parkinson’s has lasted more than two decades, according to researchers from Lund University in Sweden. More than two decades ago, researchers took stem cells from babies and inserted them into the brains of 10 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Their hope was that the healthy stem cells would restore diminished brain function.

In one instance, the researchers followed a patient with Parkinson’s disease who underwent the transplantation 24 years before his death. This was how the stem cells helped him:

  • No more medication needed: The patient showed such marked improvement that his medication was no longer necessary three years after the transplantation.
  • Function of transplanted dopamine-producing cells was normal: Brain-imaging technology allowed the researchers to show that dopamine function was completely normal in the transplanted brain structure ten years after the operation.
  • Healthy cells were present 24 years later: The transplanted dopamine-producing cells and their normal neural connections are still present almost a quarter of a century after the operation.

According to researcher and professor Anders Björklund, “This study is completely unique. No transplanted Parkinson’s patient has ever been followed so closely and over such a long period. The patient was also unique in the sense that the nerve cells were only transplanted to one hemisphere of the brain, which meant that the other, which did not receive any transplant, could function as a control. What we learned from the study of this patient will be of great value for future attempts to transplant dopamine-producing nerve cells obtained from stem cells.” Read more in Discover magazine.

Stem Cells to Research and Treat Alzheimer’s

Scientists have been actively engaged in research on stem cell transplants in mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms and studies have shown some benefits. In a paper in Stem Cell Reports, researchers reported “encouraging” findings.

To test the effects, scientists bred mice with the key symptoms and characteristics of Alzheimer’s, such as memory impairment. They then injected stem cells into the brains of the mice and observed some improvement in memory.

  • Stem cells repaired mice brains: About 60% of the cells were identified as alien and killed by the rodents’ immune systems, but the rest survived and repaired the damaged regions in their brains.
  • Mice showed steady improvement: The mice treated with the method were “comparable” to normal mice in performing cognitive tasks two months after the treatment, and showed steady improvement in memory tests.

According to researchers, “(t)hese results indicate the cognitive deficiency of Alzheimer’s disease in mice can be reversed.”

Stem cells are also instrumental in Alzheimer’s research. For instance, scientists are using stem cells that are derived from Alzheimer patients to grow large numbers of brain cells in the lab, which they then use to study the disease and search for new drugs.

Stem Cells to Treat Other Diseases

Some other applications of stem cells, for a range of conditions, are being investigated in clinical trials. There are several ongoing or completed clinical trials involving stem cells, for diseases including:

  • Macular degeneration
  • Neurological conditions, such as Huntington’s disease and Motor Neuron Disease;
  • Diabetes;
  • Spinal Cord Injury;
  • Myocardial infarction (heart disease);
  • Multiple sclerosis therapy;
  • Leukemia studies;
  • Cartilage or tendon injuries.

It is worth noting that there are numerous other clinical trials (not listed here) aimed at:

  • testing specific drugs to stimulate stem cells in the patient’s own body
  • deriving cells or cell lines to be used in research and clinical trials

Early Detection is Key

Research suggests that the process of degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, begins more than a decade before clinical symptoms appear. Therefore, early detection may have a major impact on the course of the disease, and in successfully treating symptoms and participating in clinical trials (perhaps even taking advantage of stem cell treatments).

Medicaid Planning for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are among the biggest health and social care challenges of our generation, and a diagnosis of such diseases is life-changing. When it comes to planning for long-term care needs, generally, the earlier someone plans, the better. But it is never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Lifecare Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Medicaid planning can be initiated by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, even if you are already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care.

Medicaid Asset Protection

At Farr Law Firm, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones. We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits such as Medicaid and Veterans Aid and Attendance. Please call us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.