Parkinson’s stem cell project aims for 2014 approval

Parkinson's patient Ed Fitzpatrick speaks about stem cell research for his disease. Fitzpatrick talked on a Dec. 7 panel at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego. Bradley J. Fikes

Parkinson's patient Ed Fitzpatrick speaks about stem cell research for his disease. Fitzpatrick talked on a Dec. 7 panel at the World Stem Cell Summit in San Diego.

For eight local Parkinsons patients seeking treatment with stem cell technology, 2014 could bring the milestone theyve been anticipating.

If all goes well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve an attempt to replace the brain cells destroyed in Parkinsons. The new cells, grown from each patients own skin cells, are expected to restore normal movement in the patients.

Because the new brain cells are made from the patients own cells, immunosuppressive drugs shouldnt be needed. Ideally, patients could stop taking their medications and resume normal activities for many years, or even the rest of their lives.

The project, Summit4StemCell.org, is a collaboration between three nonprofits. The Scripps Research Institute handles the science; Scripps Clinic takes care of the medical side; and the Parkinsons Association of San Diego helps to raise money for the self-funded project.

Since 2011, the focus has been at the institute, where scientists led by Jeanne Loring have made the artificial embryonic stem cells, called induced pluripotent stem cells, and turned them into the needed brain cells. Now Scripps Clinic is assuming a more prominent role to prepare for treating the patients.

A study in rats began in early December; results are expected by April. The animal study is meant to assess safety, although researchers will also look for signs of effectiveness.

In January, scientists will visit the FDA to lay the groundwork for a formal application, said Scripps Clinic neurologist Melissa Houser, who treats all eight patients.

Success in the animal study will likely result in a go-ahead, Houser said. If the animal trial fails, its back to the drawing board.

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Parkinson’s stem cell project aims for 2014 approval

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