Scientists in Scotland have sparked hopes for a major breakthrough in the fight against Parkinson’s disease after they successfully created stem cells which are resistant to it.

The pioneering Edinburgh University study, which was published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, set out to address and tackle issues with treatments where transplanted tissue can acquire signs of the disease from nearby cells.

Parkinson’s is a devastating condition which damages the brain over many years, resulting in tremors and slow movement, as well as stiff joints and muscles.

In Scotland, a third of individuals with Parkinson’s also have dementia.

Dr Tilo Kunath, of the Medical Research Council’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, who led the work, said: “We know that Parkinson’s disease spreads from neuron-neuron, invading healthy cells.

“This could essentially put a shelf life on the potential of cell replacement therapy.

“Our exciting discovery has the potential to considerably improve these emerging treatments.”

Researchers also say the advance could be most beneficial to younger patients and those with an aggressive form of the condition.

They have stressed, however, that the latest advance has still to be tested in human trials.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s and, although there are drugs that ease the symptoms, none are capable of slowing it down.

The hope is that research such as that undertaken in Edinburgh could help pave the way to treating the disease though stem cells which play a major role in the body’s healing processes.

Professor Marios Politis, professor of neurology and neuroimaging in the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, said: “For over 30 years, cell replacement therapy has been investigated as a potential treatment for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

“Results so far have been inconsistent but there is hope that such therapies – once optimised – may provide solutions to alter the course of Parkinson’s disease.

“However, there is more work to be done and I am looking forward to further developments to allow safe and effective translation of these and other important research developments in patients with Parkinson’s disease.”

Over 12,000 people in Scotland currently have Parkinson’s, with over 1,500 more diagnoses this year – around 30 every week.

Across the UK the number of people living with the disease is expected to double in the next 50 years, as the population increases and people live longer.

In addition to the emotional and physical toll on sufferers and their families, households affected by Parkinson’s in Scotland lose on average £13,375 per year from costs such as medication and home adaptations.

Annie Macleod, Scotland director of Parkinson’s UK, has welcomed the results of the Edinburgh University study.

She said: “This pioneering work has the potential to deliver long-term, life-changing treatments.

“Dr Tilo Kunath and his team at the University of Edinburgh have used cutting edge techniques to make cells resistant to Parkinson’s.

“This should mean that the Parkinson’s stem cell transplantation trials stand a significantly better chance of providing long term benefits for people who are suitable for stem cell treatments.”

She added: “I’m delighted that this work helps cement Scotland’s position at the heart of world-leading Parkinson’s research.”