More lucky monkeys or a big leap forward?

In it’s simplest form, a Parkinson’s 'cure' (the inverted commas are deliberate) can be described as something to replace what has been lost (dopamine neurons), combined with something to stop it going again.

Stem cells have long held promise for the former, in fact it was once thought to be almost a low hanging fruit in neurological research, simply replace dead cells by transplanting replacements. The concept has actually been around for a long time, with transplants of embryonic stem cells taking place in clinical trials as long ago as the 1980s.

For a variety of reasons this didn’t prove to be as easy as first perceived, with inconsistent results and unforeseen side effects. Yet the concept has and continues to hold great allure for the patient community.

A paper published in the science journal Nature today documents the work of scientists in Japan with IPS stem cells, who successfully transplanted into a primate model and the effects proved positive in long term follow up.

Now I only had the word Parkinson’s seared into the very fabric of my being rather abruptly just under 3 years ago, yet even with that relatively short duration, my initial reaction when hearing of more cured monkeys was to roll my eyes. Scientists have been curing rats, monkeys and even fruit flies of Parkinson’s for many decades now, the fact we haven’t been offered these cures shows that sadly, they haven’t translated into walking, talking people.

Yet upon further reflection, I can’t help but feel more cautious optimism. It is after all more evidence of progress being made both in understanding of the disease and developing better treatment.

The challenge now is to make this relevant to people with Parkinson’s today as too often these breakthroughs have not been consolidated and/or are made to sound so incredibly distant that only people driving in flying cars and taking holidays on Mars stand to benefit.

So my challenge to Parkinson’s research scientists remains, make this relevant to those of us living with Parkinson’s now.