In a study conducted on mice, researchers discovered that stem cells taken from the endometrium is capable of repairing brain cells damaged by Parkinson's disease.
Although these are preliminary results, the findings increase the likelihood that endometrial tissue could be harvested from women with Parkinson's disease and used to re-grow brain areas that have been damaged by the disease, according to lead author Dr. Hugh S. Taylor.
Because of their ability to divide into new cell types, stem cells could be the key to treating many different kinds of diseases, like Parkinson's, in which the body's own cells are damaged or depleted.
Parkinson's is caused by a breakdown of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain stem. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates the motor neurons that in turn control muscles.
When dopamine production is reduced, the nerves fail to control movement or maintain coordination.
In their study, the researchers collected and cultured endometrial tissue from nine women, and verified that they could be transformed into dopamine-producing nerve cells like those in the brain.
"The dopamine levels in the mice increased once we transferred the endometrial stem cells into their brains. This is encouraging because women have a ready supply of stem cells that are easily obtained, can differentiate into other cell types. They may have great potential for treating multiple diseases," said Taylor.
Highlighting the benefits of using endometrial stem cells, Taylor said the ethical concerns surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells are eliminated when using adult stem cells.
Taylor also pointed out that endometrial stem cells are one of the best sources for generating neurons because they appear to be less likely to be rejected than stem cells from other sources.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we will be able to do with these cells. We believe these neurons are only the first of many cell types derived from endometrium that will be used to treat a variety of diseases," said Taylor.
The findings are published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine.