Researchers hope a procedure using patients' own stem cells will cure Parkinson's Disease, or at least eliminate symptoms for decades.
Eight patients have joined the project at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla to take part in the initial trial. Before they are able to proceed, they must get funding and obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
"We're all treading water until the funds can be found and the hoops that the FDA give us can be jumped through," said Cassandra Peters, who was a paralegal at a law firm until 2005, when the symptoms of Parkinson's made it too difficult to work. She was diagnosed at age 44, 13 years ago.
The planned procedure entails taking a skin sample from the patients, then creating pluripotent stem cells with the genetic material. Millions of stem cells will then be injected into the brain to create dopamine neurons, which are destroyed by Parkinson's disease.
It's a technique discovered by Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2012.
Jeanne Loring, Ph.D., Director of the Center of Stem Cell Research at the Scripps Research Institute said similar work has been done in the past.
"There was work done in the 1980s and early 1990s in which fetal tissue was transplanted into the brains of people with Parkinson's disease," Loring said.
She said the problem was that fetal tissue produced inconsistent results.Loring believes using pluripotent stem cells derived from the same patient in which the cells will be transplanted will be much more reliable.
"The thing about Parkinson's Disease is there's really only one nerve cell type that needs to be replaced, and we know exactly where to put it," Loring said.
That confidence has been passed to the patients in this project who, unlike many other research projects, have been very involved in the process-- meeting with scientists and researchers in the laboratory.
"If this procedure works, and I know that it will, it will be the answer to so many people's prayers," Peters said.
Funding for the procedure remains a challenge as the government has not provided any grants for the project. Patients have been taking matters into their own hands, raising money for the non-profit Summit 4 Stem Cell, which hopes that Parkinson's victims' hike to Mount Everest base camp can help raise money for this initial procedure.
Edward Fitzpatrick, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's nearly seven years ago, said the group has raised nearly one million dollars and needs to raise $1.5 million more to perform the procedure on the initial test group.
The Food and Drug Administration must also give its approval. Dr. Loring said there were no set requirements from the regulatory group, but researchers are working closely with the FDA to reach a solution.