Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease, also known simply as Parkinson’sis a progressive and chronic neurological condition. Parkinsonism on the other hand, is an umbrella term which is used to cover several neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease, which are associated with various movement symptoms.

In itself, Parkinson’s is not fatal, but normal daily tasks can become harder to carry out without help, especially as time goes on.

What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?

The range of symptoms that are associated with Parkinson’s can be quite varied, with more than 40 symptoms that different people may experience, however there are 3 main symptoms:

  • Tremor (involuntary shaking of part of the body)
  • Slow movement
  • Muscle stiffness

Not everyone will have the same symptoms though, and others may experience some of the following, among other symptoms:

  • Memory and cognitive issues
  • Impaired swallowing reflex
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of smell
  • Pain
  • Balance problems with an increased risk of falls.

Parkinson’s Disease Facts

When initially diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with a lot of new information; many people report feeling isolated. It’s important for patients to remember that they are not alone, there is plenty of support available, and there are many others who are in the same situation.

  • There are approximately 153,000 people in the UK with Parkinson’s.
  • It is estimated that by 2030, there will be 172,000 living with Parkinson’s in the UK.
  • There are 2 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s every hour.
  • There are around 83,100 men aged 50 to 89 living with Parkinson’s in the UK. This means that men of this age are 1.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s than women.
  • There are approximately 1800 people under the age of 50 living with Parkinson’s in the UK.

Types of Parkinsonism

There are 3 types main of Parkinsonism apart from Parkinson’s Disease where there is progressive destruction of dopamine producing cells in the brain:

  • Idiopathic Parkinson’s, where the cause is unknown.
  • Vascular Parkinsonism, where blood supply to the brain has been restricted, for example, by a mild stroke.
  • Drug-induced Parkinsonism, where drugs such as those used to treat conditions like schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, restrict the use of dopamine in the brain temporarily while using the drug.

What are the causes of Parkinson’s Disease?

Some cases of Parkinson’s appear to be hereditary and in some patients’ their disease can be linked to genetic variants. However, in most cases, the disease does not seem to run in families, and it is now thought that Parkinsons’s is due to a combination of genetic and environmental or other unknown factors

Current Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

Currently there is no cure for Parkinson’s, however there are treatments that can help to manage the symptoms better. There is no one treatment path that is recommended, instead those with Parkinson’s usually work with a neurologist, GP or Specialist Parkinson’s nurse to find a combination of different treatments including medication, physical activity and therapy that works for them.

There are drugs that can help patients to manage their symptoms.

In addition, people with Parkinson’s are usually recommended totake around 2.5 hours a week of physical activity, and to engage in physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and/or occupational therapy as required according to their symptoms.

Can Stem Cells Treat Parkinson’s Disease, and What Does the Future Hold?

Although there is not currently a cure for Parkinson’s, the future is promising. Parkinson’s UK believes that new treatment may be years, not decades away, and they are always pushing for more answers.

Some of the most prominent current research which is happening in clinical trials currently involves stem cell therapies. Certain stem cells have the amazing ability to transform into different types of cells or produce key proteins that help damaged tissues to heal. The benefit of this is that they may be used to repair or replace tissues in the human body that have been damaged due to a huge range of conditions. In Parkinson’s, it is hoped that stem cell therapies will be developed to replace the damaged or missing dopamine-producing brain cells or slow down the progression of the disease.

Currently there are no approved stem cell treatments for Parkinson’s, however there are a number of clinical trials happening worldwide to ascertain whether the therapies are safe and effective for people with Parkinson’s. These include but are not limited to the following:

  • Phase 1 Safety and Tolerability of Stem Cell Therapy for Advanced Parkinson’s Disease (USA and Canada) (1) (2) (3) – This trial took 12 people through a surgical transplantation of dopamine-producing stem cells in either a high or low dose. The early results in August 2023 showed no major side effects or safety issues. As a result, this is due to move into Phase 2.
  • Phase 1 Safety and Tolerability of Transplanted Stem Cell Derived Dopamine Neurons to the Brains of Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (STEM-PD Trial) (4) – This trial is looking at a new stem cell therapy product called STEM-PD which comprises laboratory grown stem cells capable of manufacturing dopamine,  and whether it is safe to use in people with Parkinson’s. The participants will be followed for 36 months over the course of 25 primary visits at their local recruiting hospital, with imaging performed in London and Lund in Sweden. The completion is estimated in 2027.
  • Phase 2 Meschenchymal Stem Cells as a Disease-Modifying Therapy for Parkinson’s (5) – Following a successful Phase 1 trial where the treatment was shown to be safewith an improvement in symptoms., 45 patients have been treated with mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) derived from donor bone marrow. It is thought that the MSCs may be capable of reducing inflammation in the brains of the patients. . The results are expected in 2024.
  • The Cleveland Cord Blood Center Research and Development Laboratory is exploring an innovative cord blood stem cell based concept which still at the preclinical investigative stage (6). Researchers are testing the theory that two cord blood stem cell populations consisting of MSCs and hematopoietic stem cells (able to generate blood and immune cells), both derived from a single cord blood unit, will work together to benefit Parkinson’s disease patients.

Clearly, the use of stem cell therapeutics for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease is still at the early stages of development but emerging results from clinical trials are encouraging and there is hope that this will bring tangible benefits for patients in the future.


  1. https://clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT04802733
  2. https://clinic.stemcell.uci.edu/Clinical_Trials/doc/2021-6570_Study_Patient_Factsheet_06-11-21.PDF
  3. https://www.bluerocktx.com/bluerocks-phase-i-study-with-bemdaneprocel-in-patients-with-parkinsons-disease-meets-primary-endpoint/
  4. https://clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT05635409
  5. https://clinicaltrials.gov/study/NCT04506073
  6. https://clevelandcordblood.org/research/parkinsons-disease/

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