THE PROSPECT of using brain tissue grafts to treat Parkinson's disease has come a step closer with a study showing that nerve cells can be grown to maturity in the test tube.
Scientists have taken immature "stem cells" from embryos a few days old and stimulated them to develop into the fully functioning nerve cells that are destroyed in the brains of patients suffering from Parkinson's disease, they announced yesterday.
People with Parkinson's, such as the actor Michael J Fox and the boxer Muhammad Ali, suffer a progressive neurological deterioration, where they experience muscle tremors, rigidity and an inability to move their limbs.
The latest research is further evidence that stem cells - the master cells of the body which can develop into any one of its 200 or so specialised tissue types - are going to become one of the most revolutionary medical developments of the 21st century.
Scientists predict that by harnessing the immense potential of stem cells for developing into healthy, working tissue, they will be able to treat conditions ranging from brain disorders such as Parkinson's to heart disease and cancers.
The latest findings, released at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco, show that stem cells from the early embryos of laboratory mice and rats can be made to produce dopamine, one of the brain's messenger molecules, which is lacking in Parkinson's patients.
One of the few treatments for Parkinson's boosts dopamine levels by injecting L-dopa, a chemical precursor to the neurotransmitter. However, the …