The Parkinsons Association has hired its inaugural scientist, a step the San Diego-based patient advocacy group describes as its first toward becoming a research center.

The scientist, Andrs Bratt-Leal, helps lead a project called, which aims to treat eight local Parkinsons patients with new brain cells grown from their own skin. The patients are raising money for their treatment. Theyre assisted by the nonprofit association and partners Scripps Health and The Scripps Research Institute.

If all goes well, treatment will start early next year.

Bratt-Leal continues to work in the lab of stem cell expert Jeanne Loring, head of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at The Scripps Research Institute. The medical arm of the project is being directed by Dr. Melissa Houser, a Scripps Health neurologist.

Bratt-Leal, as it turns out, has been working on a project of his own: Hes an expectant father. Bratt-Leal had considered leaving his job in Lorings lab to seek work closer to home in San Clemente.

Jeanne asked me to see if we could negotiate a contract with him where he would be able to stay in a broader capacity, said Jerry Henberger, the associations executive director. He didnt have the ability through The Scripps Research Institute to take that next step.

The association found the money to hire Bratt-Leal, who started as its senior scientist in February. As part of the deal, he continues to work under Lorings direction.

Raising money has been a constant concern since Summit4StemCell was founded in 2011. If a clinical trial of the therapy is approved, millions will be needed to pay for the treatment and kept as a reserve for care if the therapy goes awry.

The good news is that funding may be available from the states stem cell agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Henberger said. The group plans to submit a proposal when the next funding round begins.

In addition, the project may qualify for financial backing from the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center, which was established in November with a $100 million gift from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford. The center integrates operations at UC San Diego and other La Jolla research centers to turn the science into therapies.

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