Parkinson’s Disease, Parkinson’s for short, is a degenerative disease of the nervous system that leads to motor system disorders. Nerve cells in the brain that produce the transmitting substance dopamine are damaged, which causes a decrease in the ability to control movements accurately. Both genetic components and gene mutation as well as environmental factors such as environmental toxins are known to be causes of Parkinson’s disease. With a higher life expectancy among the Western countries the number of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease is also rising.
Types of Parkinson’s Disease
There are various types of Parkinson’s disease. Most patients suffer from the primary or idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. The main symptoms include slowed movements and a decrease in the ability to move spontaneously. Obvious signs for such symptoms are increasingly smaller handwriting or shorter steps. Most of the time only one side of the body is affected.
The best-known symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are the so-called tremors, a shaking of a hand, an arm, or a leg, which occurs while sitting or standing still. These tremors are amplified through mental occupation and emotions and are only declining when moving the affected body part intentionally. Legs, face, tongue, and the whole head can also be affected. Additionally, there is a higher muscle tension while moving that leads to the typical posture with bent knee and elbow joints.
Secondary or atypical Parkinsonism is linked to atypical symptoms such as a monotonous whispering voice or the patient swallowing less often. Other symptoms of atypical Parkinsonism include sleeplessness, chronic pain, or psychological disturbances such as depression or dementia. These can indicate inappropriate medication, tumors, intoxications, inflammations, or other neurodegenerative diseases.
When the disease occurs before the age of 40 it is called early onset Parkinson’s, when it occurs before the age of 21 it is called juvenile Parkinson’s.
Progression of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a long-term degenerative disease that progresses slowly over the years. In the first stage degeneration starts with the nervous system of the olfactory sense (stage 1) and continues to the brain stem (stage 2). It is only at stage 3 that the dopamine-producing cells are affected. Motor system deficiencies occur after that at stage 4.
Therapy of Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is commonly treated with drugs. The lack of dopamine that occurs in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease can be compensated through pharmacotherapy. One approach is to apply a precursor substance of dopamine that is transformed into dopamine as soon as it reaches the brain. Another way is to apply a dopamine agonist that can bind to dopamine receptors and thereby imitate the function of dopamine.
Additionally, patients receive physiotherapy and occupational therapy to practice movement patterns, coordination, and reactions. If needed, speech therapy is also conducted.
Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure during which electrodes are implanted into the patient’s brain. Through electric stimulation of certain areas of the brain external symptoms like tremors can be reduced.
Stem Cell Therapy of Parkinson’s Disease
Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSC) or Stromal Vascular Fraction (SVF) can be used to assist the therapy of Parkinson’s disease. Stem cells are the predecessors of all cells of the human body. By emitting cytokines stem cells modulate the immune system and stimulate regeneration of tissue.
The therapeutic application of mesenchymal stem cells proposes itself because of the degenerative nature of Parkinson’s disease. As part of the therapy stem cells are isolated from a small portion of the patient’s fat tissue that is harvested by liposuction. After that the stem cells are immediately administered systemically. Inside the patient’s body the stem cells modulate the immune system and stimulate stationary stem cells to regenerate.
Stem cell research is constantly looking for new ways to treat Parkinson’s disease. A new idea is to replace destroyed cells with new dopamine-producing cells. However, this therapy is still in its early stages and has thus far only succeeded in mice. Therefore it is not yet available for humans.