Hope for the future?

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27 September 2015

An interesting development suggests that a cure for narcolepsy might one day be possible.

Narcolepsy is now generally believed to be an auto-immune disorder resulting from the destruction of cells within the brain that are responsible for the production of hypocretin. As such, replacement or regeneration of those cells might lead to a treatment for narcolepsy that actually cures the condition, rather than just alleviates the symptoms.

Regenerative medicine has been a hot topic for several years, with particular attention focused on therapies using stem cells. Our bodies are made up of countless different types of cell, and stem cells have the potential to turn into any of those different types of cell. If certain cells are missing for any reason, and stem cells could be “persuaded” to turn into those cells, then the deficiency would be rectified.

The first stem cell therapy has just been recommended for approval in Europe. Holoclar is a treatment for the eyes, involving stem cells taken from an undamaged part of a patient’s cornea and then used to treat the effects of physical or chemical burns to the eyes.

According to the report of this development in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of Pharma Times, “Stem cell therapy has the potential to treat any disease” and “In 10 years’ time advances in stem cell technology will have been so significant that it will not be possible to talk about modern medicine without reference to stem cells”.

Those are ambitious claims, and the treatment of narcolepsy presents particular challenges, not least the fact that the location of the missing cells is deep within the brain. Nonetheless, the approval of the first stem cell therapy shows that these treatments are not science fiction, and gives genuine hope that the technology may be widely applicable in the future, perhaps within the lifetimes of many sufferers from narcolepsy alive today.