Buying Time for a Cure

Bob Patin jubilantly emailed a recent article from the Chicago Tribune reporting progress in human stem cell research – a significant discovery proving that adult skin cells can be cloned to produce embryonic stem cells. But more about that later.

Scientific work like this gives Lori hope that a cure for her Parkinson’s disease is within reach. Parkinson’s is a progressive, degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system. Until now, there has been no cure, only medications that mitigate symptoms. Lori, in her determined, tenacious way, does not sit back and bemoan the lack; rather she believes her cure is just beyond the horizon. Waiting for that cure to arrive, she works hard at keeping her symptoms at bay by exercising four hours a day, taking harp lessons and having a massage, acupuncture and Feldenkrais® treatment every week, among many other things. Her spirits are good because she knows she is buying time until that cure is found.

Allow me to explain the importance of recent research. First, some basics about Parkinson’s. On a biochemical level, a dearth of dopamine in the brain causes this disease.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals to the rest of the body to control movement, among other things. By the time symptoms manifest, dopamine-generating cells have been 80 percent destroyed.

Stem cell research is critical to finding a cure because scientists believe dopamine-generating cells can be developed from embryonic stem cells. The Michael J. Fox Foundation, for example, supports work in stem cell research for Parkinson’s, disease. MJF funded the original proof demonstrating that ES cells could provide a robust source of dopamine neurons.

The catch is that only embryonic stem cells, not adult stem cells, can do this,Embryonic Stem Cellsand they are not readily available due to ethical considerations about harvesting cells from human embryos. The article Bob sent, “Scientists clone human embryonic stem cells from two adults,” offers the promise of using adult skin cells to clone human embryos specifically for the purpose of creating these critical cells.

There is always hope. Buying time is what matters.