Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have successfully turned skin cells into brain cells. They are hopeful that their research will have positive ramifications for Parkinson’s disease treatment.

The team obtained created three different kinds of stem cells from the skin cells of adults. Two types of the stem cells had the mutated gene, LRKK2, the harbinger of the most predominant genetic cause of Parkinson’s disease. They then converted the stem cells into dopamine neurons, which bear the largest burden for Parkinson’s disease. The researchers believe that it is disruption to the production of this neuron’s mitochondria that causes the symptoms of the illness.

Previous research had managed to stop the onslaught of Parkinson’s disease in mice, but similar efforts with the same drugs have all failed in humans, indicating a difference between animal models of the disorder and its manifestation in humans. In fact, 20 different trials have been held to attempt to recreate the success of the animal models in humans. All have failed.

In their experiment, the Johns Hopkins team introduced three different compounds to the neurons created from stem cells, all of which had been shown to stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease in animals. All of the cells reacted favorably to them. Researchers believe that this indicates that doctors need to begin treating people with Parkinson’s disease – before they begin exhibiting symptoms of the illness.

The team obviously realizes that they are in the early stage of developing this research. The most definitive hurdle is a lack of an ability, presently, to diagnose the illness without viewing the symptoms.

Parkinson's disease is a collection of motor system disorders, with the primary symptoms being tremors; trembling in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; rigidity of the limbs or torso; slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination. It mainly is diagnosed in people over the age of 50, and the affliction is generally lifelong and progressive. Six million people are diagnosed with the disorder.

There is presently neither a cure nor a way to delay the disease. The biggest hurdle for future research will be finding a way to diagnose Parkinson's disease before any physical signs appear. By discovering a way to diagnosis the disease earlier, durgs that may have failed to stop Parkinson's disease previously may be effective in stopping the disease when introduced earlier in the disease's progression.

The results of the experiment were published in Science Translational Medicine.