An evening of Hope

Research begins with the patient, not in the lab

Professor Tamir Ben-Hur

25 people packed into my family room on Monday night to hear Professor Tamir Ben-Hur, the Israel S.Wechsler Chair in Neurology at  Hadassah Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, speak about the future of Parkinson’s research.  The one word we kept hearing throughout his presentation was “Hope.”  The standing room crowd listened intently to his presentation, hoping to hear those magic words:  we have found a cure for Parkinson’s.  But we all know the reality of our situation, and the best we can hope for now is an improvement in our lives with PD.

Prof Ben-Hur spoke about 3 key points.  First, he spoke about treatments being developed for PD.  One is using stem cells for treatment of Parkinson’s Disease.  Animal models have shown some success with stem cells generating dopamine neurons and movement functions improved.  Unfortunately, the implanted stem cells did not survive very well in humans.  It has taken 10 years to develop an improved method to generate stem cells and implant them and trials in humans will begin soon.   There is an international multi-center effort to find a way to do the tranplant successfully.  It is most likely that they will recruit patients who have movement symptoms. The downside is that side effects  may include increased diskinesias.

He spoke about the direction of DBS (deep brain stimulation) research.  DBS is the most important therapeutic option today. The most difficult thing is finding the exact spot in the brain to place the electrode.  The process he described was amazing.  If the surgeon misses by a mm, the emotional part of the brain can be affected with terrible side effects.  Prof Ben Hur is very excited about the next generation of DBS.  Researchers are looking at a Closed Loop system for DBS.  Brain activity can be read by the system.  When pathological activity is identified, the stimulator will be activitated to correct the symptoms.  It has been shown to work in animal models and is now in development for human patients.  Prof Ben Hur says that this should be available in a few years.

Second, he spoke about what we can do to prevent the disease.  We need to develop a means of early diagnosis to stop the disease early.  In PD, when pathological symptoms occurs, approximately 50% of the neurons have already died off.  Several areas being investigated are:

A blood test – when the brain cells die, some of the DNA shows up in the blood.  There are specific fingerprints that tell us where the  DNA came from in the body.  The technological challenge is to identify such small amounts of DNA.  The hope is that the general population can eventually be screened for an accelerated death of dopamine neurons in the brain, well before clinical symptoms appear.

Another blood test being developed looks for alpha-synuclein aggregation, which may come from the gut nervous system before it moves to the brain, causing constipation.  It may begin as a systemic disease for some people, not in the brain.

Use of a new MRI process, a hyperpolarizer, that shows the metabolic activity of dopamine in the brain.  This has wide ranging implications for PD and for psychiatric disorders.

Finally, he talked the future.  He spoke about using simple solutions that are widely available, not expensive and have no side effects.  One is using powerful anti-oxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain cells.  Punicic Acid from Pomegranites is one anti-oxidant that is being investigated with positive results.  It is being developed as a food additive, so that it does not need the expense of going through the FDA to get approval.  This should be available very soon.

The final frontier for neurologic diseases is to use bio-markers to predict how the disease will behave and how it will respond to medication.  Treatment can be individualized and specific to the patient.  This also has implications for pharmaceutical research.  Bio-markers can be used to  create clinical studies using a smaller well-defined group of patients for a shorter time period, therefore decreasing dramatically the expense and time-frame for developing effective drugs for approval by the FDA.

Professor Ben-Hur ended his talk with just one word:  Hope

There is Hope for the future in Parkinson’s research and treatment.  As Prof Ben-Hur said, he thinks this will occur during his lifetime – and ours.  Let’s hope he is right.

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Even my dog was entranced by the presentation!

 

An Important Breakthough for ALS

“In the clinical trial of intrathecal infusion of stem cells there were no major adverse effects, and close to 90% of patients showed slowing in the progression of disease, as measured by their respiratory function or their general motor disability”
—Principal Investigator Dr. Dimitrios Karussis, MD, PhD, Sr. Neurologist, HMO Neurology

 

First, I want to thank all of you who have been following me for the last 10 months.  You helped me reach the magic number of 100 followers!!!  Thank you for all of your support in the last year.  It has been an exciting experience for me watching how the internet brings us all so much closer.  This blog has been read in countries all over the world and several of the posts have been re-posted on other sites.  I am looking forward to sharing my thoughts and news about Parkinson’s Disease with you again this year.

Second, and more important, as a past president of Hadassah Southern California and a member of the Hadassah National Board, I am proud to share the following news with you.  Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America announced yesterday that a new ALS treatment utilizing a stem cell infusion protocol performed at Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) and developed by the US/Israeli biotech company BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics (NASDAQ: BCLI), has significantly slowed the progression of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  For the full text, click here.

This treatment has the potential to be used for other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and MS.  Israel has long been in the forefront of stem-cell research since its inception and there has been much hope for a breakthrough in Parkinson’s research ever since.  I have actually been seen at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem twice by the head of Neurology, Professor Tamir Ben-Hur.  When I last saw him three years ago, he had nothing new to report about stem-cell treatment for PD.  Delivery of stem-cells was the big issue.  At the time,  they were trying to inject stem cells directly into the brain, but unfortunately, most did not survive the transplant.  With this new treatment, there is more hope for the future.

On Thursday, I will have the privilege of meeting with Dr. Dimitrios Karussis, MD, PhD, Sr.

Neurologist, HMO Neurology, who is the principal investigator in the study.  I have so many questions for him and I hope to be able to share more news with you after our meeting.

Watch Monday’s press conference