My name is Bert, a good friend of Dr. Raman’s, and my father has mid-term Parkinson’s Disease.

Basically he’s wasting away.  And although the progression of his disease is fairly slow, when I see him on a day-to-day basis, I don’t really notice much change.  But fundamentally he cannot speak, is wheelchair bound, and cannot even smile without a great deal of strain and effort.  He needs full-time caregivers for all of his “activities of daily living”, which of course includes personal hygiene, bathing and bathroom needs.  But fortunately for him (and our family) he can still swallow … and therefore maintains his weight via an otherwise healthy appetite.

But he’s NOT getting any better, and sooner or later he’s going to become weaker and more feeble, and his breathing will become so shallow that he won’t be able to breathe, and he might need a respirator.  Or he might catch pneumonia from aspirating food particles.  Or a combination of the above … and have to be put into hospice.  These are the grim realities of Parkinson’s Disease, and NO ONE knows it better than me … his only son and closest family member.  He lost his wife of 60 years (YES they were married for six decades) two years ago and now lives in a “board and care” home nearby in Carlsbad, where the soon-to-be-discussed biotech company is doing their thing … and hoping for a scientific miracle in the world of biotechnology.

To make matters worse, his younger brother, my uncle, living in Seattle also has Parkinson’s.  Now this is getting a little bit TOO close to home.  I’m in my ‘middle years’, and perhaps I should be concerned … or NOT.  I don’t know if Parkinson’s is hereditary like breast cancer is … but the reality is that it very well COULD be.  Perhaps it’s a gene mutation on my father’s side of the family which is causing this debilitating and life-sapping disease.  But the reality is that “it is what it is”, and I certainly don’t want to find out the hard way, not if there are potential treatments on the horizon to offer hope to those who have such concerns, or are dealing with these issues first-hand … or second-hand, as the case may be.

Fast forward to today … and speaking of “horizons”, I found out from a family friend that a local biotech company nearby here in Carlsbad, California is in the advanced stages of study utilizing a person’s own stem cells – as opposed to embryonic stem cells – to treat disease such as Parkinson’s.  Let’s hope (for my sake and that of many others) that this research will ultimately lead to a potential cure for Parkinson’s.

And when I say “cure” … I really MEAN a cure.  Not just a flowery word that inspires hope, but a word that means exactly that.  That Parkinson’s Disease can be treated via a NON-chemical (i.e. “Big Pharma”) means that will eradicate this disease from the medical journals for the future generations, and will eliminate the need for sufferers of the disease to continue to subscribe to the ineffective Carbidopa-Levodopa regimen … chemicals which generally result in the Law of Diminishing Returns … in terms of long-term efficacy.

Lest I digress … my apologies … so this team of scientists has found that grafting human parthenogenetic stem cell-derived neural stem cells (hpNSCs) into non-human primates modeled with Parkinson’s disease promoted:

  • behavioral recovery
  • increased dopamine concentrations in the brain
  • induced the expression of beneficial genes and pathways

… as compared to control animals not transplanted with stem cells.

The team, led by Dr. Russell Kern from International Stem Cell Corporation in Carlsbad, CA, also reported that the intracerebral injection and transplantation of hpNSCs was ‘safe and well-tolerated’ for the two test groups of African green monkeys (genus Chlorocebus) with moderate to severe clinical Parkinsonian symptoms.

“Previous clinical studies have shown that grafted fetal neural tissue can achieve considerable biochemical and clinical improvements in Parkinson’s disease, however the source of fetal tissue is limited and may sometimes be ethically controversial,” Dr. Kern and co-authors said.

“Human parthenogenetic stem cells offer a good alternative because they can be derived without destroying potentially viable human embryos and can be used to generate an unlimited supply of neural cells for transplantation.”

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by a profound loss of function of the brain’s basal ganglia, resulting in a loss of dopamine neurons.  While there are drugs, such as Levodopa (L-DOPA), that increase dopamine function and provide temporary clinical improvement in some symptoms, the drug can also cause serious side effects.

Cell-based therapies are offering promise as an alternative.

“Experiments using stem cells have offered benefits in pre-clinical studies, but have also provided a wide variety of patient outcomes,” the researchers said.

This study used hpNSCs because the cells demonstrate characteristics of human embryonic stem cells, but are not sourced from viable embryos, which may be destroyed in the process.

“Our previous studies with hpNSCs had shown that the cells could also be ‘chemically directed’ to differentiate into multipotent neural stem cells and were able to be frozen for future use,” the authors said.

While the study was designed to determine whether the test animals showed greater improvement than the control group, the researchers added that a longer outcome period than 12 months may have demonstrated continued improvement and divergence from controls.

“This was the first comprehensive study showing functional recovery after transplantation of human parthenogenetic neural stem cells in a non-human primate with moderate to severe symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” the researchers concluded.

“The results of this and other studies support the clinical translation of hpNSCs and the approval of the world’s first pluripotent stem cell-based therapy for treating Parkinson’s disease.”

The results of the 12-month study were published online May 20 in the journal Cell Transplantation.

“The use of neural stem cells derived from human parthenogenic cells may be a new avenue for treating a variety of conditions,” said Dr. Paul Sanberg, distinguished university professor at the University of South Florida and co-editor-in-chief of Cell Transplantation.

“The study showed evidence of safety in using these cells, which is an improvement upon previous stem cell therapies that have shown some lineages may result in tumor formation.”

“A follow-up study that further assesses the clinical potential of this approach for functional improvement may prove promising in future treatments for Parkinson’s disease.”

This is VERY exciting news … not only for my father, but for my uncle in Seattle … and potentially … even for me (in the distant future).