🧠 Doctors transplant neurons made from brain cells to treat Parkinson's

🧠 Doctors transplant neurons made from brain cells to treat Parkinson's

Parkinson's patient, 69, becomes the first in the world to receive transplant of brain cells made from his own skin in breakthrough experimental treatment that has given him the ability to swim and tie his shoes again.

Rich Spuller
Rich Spuller

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In a historic first, doctors have transplanted brain cells to treat Parkinson's disease. The California patient became the first to undergo the procedure successfully.

Harvard University stem cell biologist Dr Kwang-Soo Kim gained brief notoriety in 2009 when he published a paper about turning patients' own skin cells into stem cells, then turning those into brain cells that might treat the devastating neurological condition.

But in 2013, he'd lost the vast majority of his funding, and prospects for his future research were looking grim. Then he received an email from a stranger, offering to pay for his work to continue.

"When optimists face problems or obstacles they are less likely to give up. And if they fail and can’t get the idea to work, they are more likely to try again with a new idea."  - Warp Manifesto for the 2020s

George Lopez, the mysterious benefactor, has Parkinson's and in the absence of a cure or even treatments that do more than dampen the symptoms, he was beginning to deteriorate.

A few email exchanges, $2 million dollars, one surgical tool invention and four years later, Lopez became the first person to successfully have millions of dopamine cells made from his skin injected into his brain in 2017.

George Lopez gave Dr. Kim and his team $2 million to work on a Parkinson's treatment - and ultimately became the first patient to receive a transplant of lab-made dopamine neurons. Eighteen months after the procedure, he's regained some motor function

After that first treatment, he was briefly euphoric. After his second, he was swimming again, an activity he'd given up for the past year for fear his tremors would escalate, and he'd drown.

Dr Kim and his team will release a case study on Doc this week and, although the 69-year-old's laps are a far cry from clinical proof that Parkinson's can be stopped, the treatment he underwent could be the first glimmer of a breakthrough against the disease.

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