People living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) can be vulnerable to clinics claiming to have found stem cell therapies to improve symptoms or even cure the disease. Unfortunately, effective stem cell treatments for PD are not yet available.
This past weekend, 60 Minutes exposed an alarming trend- more and more doctors claiming to offer stem cell therapy to treat a host of incurable diseases. According to 60 Minutes, a mere web search can return hundreds of seemingly credible websites advertising clinics abroad that claim to have found stem cell-based cures. The reality is different- we are still likely years away from viable stem cell therapies for any disease.
The 60 Minutes piece focused on a boy with cerebral palsy, and his parents’ decision to search out unproven stem cell treatments outside of the U.S. in hopes of finding some relief for their son. The treatments provided no benefit to the boy.
Still, while there is work yet to be done, many scientists remain optimistic that stem cells could hold the key to new therapies to treat various diseases, including PD. Despite the fact that we are still in the early stages of stem cell therapy development, The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) believes that viable and feasible cell replacement therapies could revolutionize the treatment of PD.
Just this past December, an important paper was published in the journal Nature that could have major implications on stem cell research in PD moving forward. Lorenz Studer, MD, director of the Sloan Kettering Institute (SKI) for Stem Cell Biology, has pioneered a new strategy for using embryonic stem (ES) cells to graft human dopamine neurons into pre-clinical models of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Historically, ES cells have shown promise for treating PD in a Petri dish, but they have not yet been effective once transplanted into a living organism. Dr. Studer’s new technique, however, has revealed new promise in models of PD, reflecting the potential for dopamine cells’ survival and function in the brain.
To find out more about this new technique, and to learn more about the major hurdles yet to overcome, read the Foundation’s News in Context interview with Dr. Studer and Brian Fiske, PhD, director of research programs at MJFF.