Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the central nervous system. It occurs when a group of brain cells that produce a chemical called dopamine begin to malfunction and eventually die. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, that transports signals to the parts of the brain that control movement initiation and coordination.

When Parkinson's disease occurs, these cells begin to die, for unexplained reasons, and the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases. Its primary symptoms are: body tremors, rigidity or stiffness of limbs or trunk, slowed movement and impaired balance and coordination.

Many Parkinson symptoms can be controlled with currently available medications, but there are no treatments to cure the disease or reverse the mental damage it causes.

Human and Social Costs

An estimated 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s. One person in 200 will be diagnosed with the disease, and 1 out of 100 individuals over 65 has Parkinson’s. Additionally, some 10% of elderly people who pass away from a non-brain illness are found to have pre-symptomatic Parkinson’s, indicating that there may be an additional 5 to 10 million people who are unaware that they are developing Parkinson’s.

The frequency of Parkinson’s disease is considerably higher in the over-60 age group, even though there is an alarming increase of younger patients. In consideration of the increased life expectancy in this country and worldwide, an increasing number of people are likely to be victims of Parkinson's disease in the future.

According to the National Parkinson Foundation, each patient spends an average of $2,500 a year for medications. After factoring in office visits, Social Security payments, nursing home expenditures, and lost income, the total cost in the US is estimated to exceed $5.6 billion annually.

The Potential for Stem Cell Cures and Therapies

Like some other neurological diseases, Parkinson’s disease is a prime candidate for treatment by stem cell transplantation. If pluripotent stem cells could be successfully encouraged to migrate to areas of damaged or dead brain cells and replace them with new and healthy cells, the effects of such diseases could be improved or perhaps cured.

In fact, the potential to use stem cells to regenerate the brain cells that are damaged by Parkinson’s has already been demonstrated in animal studies. For example, researchers at the Sloan-Kettering Institute have successfully changed mouse stem cells into dopamine-producing cells and implanted them into “parkinsonian” mice. These mice later showed a reduction in Parkinson’s-associated symptoms.

Researchers at Harvard transplanted undifferentiated mouse stem cells into the brains of rats with a Parkinson-like syndrome. The cells differentiated into fully mature neurons that produced dopamine and the animals showed functional improvement as well. While these results are encouraging, much more research needs to be done before this technique becomes accepted therapy for humans with Parkinson's disease.

That is why many families who have members suffering from Parkinson’s and groups like the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (LA), the Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation, and the Parkinson’s Action Network strongly support stem cell research – and have endorsed the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative.


American Parkinson's Disease Association

The Michael J. Fox Parkinson's Foundation

American Parkinson's Disease Association Booklet Catalog

"Testimony, President's Council on Bioethics, by Theo Palmer, PhD, Assistant Professor, Stanford University and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research." September 4, 2003

"Stem cells reduce brain damage: May replace, protect injured tissue." Harvard University Gazette -

Stem Cell Information: The official National Institutes of Health resource for stem cell research

"The latest research on stem cells and Parkinson's disease."  

"Stem cell treatment eases Parkinson's symptoms."   USA Today.

"Stem Cells Stimulated By Natural Growth Factor Reverse Damage, Restore Some Function In Adult Brain."

"Neural Stem Cells Can Develop Into Functional Neurons."

"Transplantation of Adult Human Neural Stem Cells...for Parkinson Disease"   Michel F. Levesque, MD and Toomas Neuman, PhD (Los Angeles, CA)

Publications Demonstrating Proof-of-Concept for a Stem Cell Cure for Parkinson’s

- Kim JH. McKay R. Dopamine neurons derived from embryonic stem cells function in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease. Nature (2002) 418: 50-56

- Park S. Lim J. Genetically modified human embryonic stem cells relieve symptomatic motor behavior in a rat model of Parkinson’s disease. Neuroscience Letters (2003) 353: 91-94

- Barberi T. Studer L. Neural subtype specification of fertilization and nuclear transfer embryonic stem cells and application in parkinsonian mice. Nature Biotechnology (2003) 21: 1200-1207




Paid for by YES on 71: Coalition for Stem Cell Research and Cures, #1260661
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