Muhammad Ali, the greatest fighter of all time lost his own fight recently with Parkinson’s disease.
Scientists are now investigating how regenerative medicine and particularly stem cells could be used to treat and potentially prevent Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide, with 60,000 Americans being diagnosed with the disease each year. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are being treated, but there is still no known cure. The estimated costs are upwards of $25 billion per year in the United States alone.
Patients who suffer from Parkinson’s disease have a deficiency in dopamine, a signaling chemical that controls certain movements, thinking and speech. Parkinson’s disease kills neurons located in the brain that produce dopamine. When these neurons die, patients develop classic symptoms, such as tremors.
Although there is a possible genetic and risk factor component to Parkinson’s, scientists still are not clear on what causes the majority of Parkinson’s cases.
Currently, the majority of patients with Parkinson’s are treated with Levodopa, a drug that increases dopamine. In addition, patients often need physical therapy, psychological therapy, occupational therapy, and deep brain stimulation to help decrease symptoms, but if what if you could prevent the decline?
These therapies may mask symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease, they are unfortunately not successful in halting and reversing the source of damage to dopamine producing neurons. What if you could prevent the progression instead of simply treating with drugs?
Scientists are looking for ways to detect Parkinson’s disease earlier and replace and replenish damaged dopamine-producing neurons. Scientists and researchers are looking to use stem cells to grow dopamine-producing neurons in their labs to critically study Parkinson’s disease. In doing so, it may be soon possible to treat, not only the symptoms, but instead, find a more definitive cure for Parkinson’s disease by actually replacing damaged neurons with healthy ones.
Although stem cell therapy is an exciting possibility to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a lot of work is needed before any tests can be initiated on human patients. Scientists hope that they may be able to start early human clinical trials in 2017-2018.
Muhammad Ali fought Parkinson’s hard as he fought his entire career. He fought and beat champions in the ring, fought for his principles and fought for mankind. He used his wit, his strength, speed and power. Unfortunately, one thing he was not yet able to use in his fight against Parkinson’s is powerful stem cells. The passing of Muhammad Ali brings light the need to find the role for stem cells in eliminating this deadly disease.