Stem cell research is promising amid controversy
A Big Island woman has conquered Parkinson's disease from therapy using 3 million stem cells.
CONSERVATIVE radio commentator Rush Limbaugh accused Michael J. Fox of giving people "false hope" that stem cell research could lead to remedies for Fox and other victims of Parkinson's disease, but Penny Thomas of the Big Island knows otherwise. Thomas is the first known American to be successfully treated for Parkinson's disease with human stem cells
The Stem Cell Research Center at Beijing University delivered 3 million retinal stem cells to the nearby Tiantan Puhua Neurosurgical Hospital, where they were deposited in Thomas' brain. The 53-year-old from Captain Cook told the Star-Bulletin's Helen Altonn she had been "living on sheer will power" before the treatment but now is "doing wonderfully."
The research leading to the use of stem cells found in the back of the eye to combat Parkinson's disease began more than a decade ago with experiments on three monkeys, then with implants into the brains of six patients. Scientists found the cells produced dopamine, a chemical responsible for the body's movements that Parkinson's disease causes to malfunction or die.
Half of the patients involved in the research also showed improvement in dyskinesia, the uncontrollable shaking that Fox displayed in a television commercial urging viewers to vote yes for stem cell research and for a Democratic Senate candidate over the Republican incumbent. Limbaugh commented, "Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."
Many people lacking knowledge of Parkinson's disease might have come to the same conclusion, having seen Fox relatively stable in recent episodes of ABC's "Boston Legal." In fact, as Fox explained Sunday to George Stephanopoulos on the network's "This Week," he was neither acting nor off medication during the political commercial.
In advanced stages of Parkinson's disease, Fox said, lack of medication results in "very limited movement" and difficulty speaking, while medication causes "increased mobility, less tremor" and greater ability to speak. "That's the tradeoff," he said. "So I either sound good or look good."
After receiving hundreds of complaints about his remarks, Limbaugh issued a lame apology "if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act." He has yet to admit that he was indeed wrong, and Limbaugh's hard-core worshipers probably think he was right.
The fact that therapy using adult stem cells was successful in treatment of Penny Thomas is encouraging because federal funds on such research are unrestricted. However, because adults stem cells are difficult to isolate and multiply, scientists believe greater hope exists with embryonic stem cells, where federal help is greatly restricted.
"And it's not false hope. It's a very informed hope," Fox told Stephanopoulos. "Will (it) be a straight path to victory? Probably not. Probably you'll have stutter steps along the way. ... But two steps forward, one step forward, one step back, you know, it's a process. It's how this country was built."