Parkinson's stem cell effort holds fundraiser

Attendees at a fundraiser for Parkinson's patients enjoy food and the setting sun at the home of Jeffrey Strauss, owner of the Pamplemousse Grill. The proceeds help Summit4StemCell.org.

A bold experiment to relieve Parkinson's disease symptoms for many years faces a Nov. 4 deadline to raise a total of $2.5 million. That money will allow the group running the project to get matching funds from California's stem cell agency.

Thanks to the owner/chef of Pamplemousse Grill and a number of donors, the group just took a giant step toward that goal.

The group, Summit4StemCell.org, has been holding events for years to raise money to research the therapy, which will use skin cells from eight patients to form new brain cells. The cells will be implanted in the patients' brains to replace the cells destroyed in Parkinson's that make the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Supporters and some patients have climbed atop Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and to Base Camp at Mt. Everest, as well as holding local fundraisers. That money has advanced the research so it's feasible to try it in the patients. But more money is needed to pay for the treatment and related expenses.

So last week, supporters gathered at the home of Jeffrey Strauss, owner of Pamplemousse Grille in Solana Beach.

Proceeds from the $500-a-plate dinner brought in nearly $1 million for the project, said Sherrie Gould, an organizer and project sparkplug. Gould, a nurse practitioner at Scripps Clinic, interfaces between the clinical side, led by neurologist Melissa Houser of Scripps Clinic, and the research side, led by Jeanne Loring, a stem cell scientist at The Scripps Research Institute, and Andres Bratt-Leal of the Parkinsons Association of San Diego. The association is the nonprofit under which Summit4StemCell is held.

"Jeffrey is very close to a couple of our patients, and he literally opened up his home to about 130 people, completely provided food, drink, open bar, wine, wait staff, linens..." Gould said.

Counting in-kind donations, the total raised so far is about $1.5 million, meaning that Summit4StemCell needs to raise another $1 million by September, for a total of $2.5 million, Gould said. With that amount, the group can apply for $2.5 million in matching funds from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

"Funding our mission has been at a grass-roots level, philanthropy, and a few minor grants," the project said in a fundraising email. "With over 900 people donating to the project we have been able to successfully biopsy the patients skin and create dopamine-producing neurons from eight of Dr. Houser's PD patients. We are now comparing cell lines with other researchers' lines, characterizing/purifying the cells, and most exciting: testing the neurons from our patients in an animal model of PD."

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Parkinson's stem cell effort holds fundraiser

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