Stem cell therapy and Parkinson’s
ROYSTON JONES JR
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Sep 17, 2013
As the government pushes to establish and regulate stem cell therapy in The Bahamas, a leading neurologist has said he is “cautiously optimistic” of the potential stem cell therapy treatments that could result in the coming years for people with Parkinson’s disease.
“The underlining principal of stem cell therapy is that you are replacing dysfunctional or abnormal cells with normal cells, which lends more towards curing the underlining issue because you are undertaking the underlining process,” said Dr. Edwin Demeritte on the sidelines of a Kingdor National Parkinson’s Foundation press conference yesterday at the Parthenon of West Street.
“But you have to get the stem cells into the place, and turn it on for it to be effective.”
Demeritte, a neurologist at the Bahamas Neurological Center, said while a lot of work and research is advancing stem cell therapy around the globe, there are some challenges to consider with neurological diseases.
“One of the questions and aspects is you have a very small area of the brain with Parkinson’s disease called the substantia nigra. I have the precursor cells, the stem cells, [but] how do get it to the substantia nigra area?” he asked.
“How do I turn on those genes that will allow the stem cell to convert into the neuron, and the specific neuron that produces dopamine?”
Parkinson’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder which research has shown is a result of the brain stopping the production of an essential chemical, Dopamine. The disease results in the nervous system being systematically broken down over time.
Another challenge with the potential therapy, raised by Kingdor National Parkinson Foundation Chairperson Mavis Darling-Hill, is cost.
“That is my concern with it – that it will not be available to the average man because of the cost,” she said. “That is something government needs to keep in mind as well.”
The average annual medical cost to someone with Parkinson’s disease stands at around $50,000, Darling-Hill said.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s.
Early symptoms of the illness may include a slight tremor that can be on one side of the body or both, muscle rigidity, difficulty walking and slow and limited movement.
According to the Demeritte, the main treatments for Parkinson’s are the medication Levodopa, multidisciplinary management and on occasion surgery.
The Stem Cell Therapy and Research Bill passed in the Senate in August following its passage in the House of Assembly. The law is intended to regulate the sector in The Bahamas.
Last week, the University of Miami submitted a proposal to operate a stem cell research center in The Bahamas. Prime Minister Perry Christie announced in August that the university will assist in the development of a local stem cell industry.
Earlier that month, Christie and a delegation of Cabinet ministers traveled to Miami to meet with the university to discuss a possible health care partnership. Christie said the university wants to specifically focus on ensuring that The Bahamas is a jurisdiction of integrity – a desire shared by Demeritte, who said there is risk of misuse no matter how strict the regulatory regime is.
“As a medical professional, I know we have to be cautious because the potential for abuse is huge,” he said.
“Not only is there potential for abuse. The other aspect is will it be a technology for the privileged and not for all. Those are serious challenges.
“We have to make sure that we have in place systems to protect our people, protect essentially the world, and they have to be robust as you proceed.”
At the press conference, Minister of Health Dr. Perry Gomez expressed hope for potential stem cell therapies for various neurological diseases.
“There is a lot of research going on around the world using stem cells with respect to Parkinson’s and a number of chronic diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease,” he said.
“And so we await the trials that are going on in top universities with respect to chronic neurological diseases and the benefit of stem cells in those areas.”
Kingdor National Parkinson Foundation, a nonprofit organization, will host its 3rd annual speech competition on October 27 at 3 p.m. to raise awareness of Parkinson’s disease.