Is Grey’s Anatomy’s Parkinson’s ‘Cure’ Real?


It’s commonplace for TV to fast-track medical innovation. Take the present season of Gray’s Anatomy, which featured a significant storyline a few “remedy” for Parkinson’s illness. The drama sequence adopted a group of researchers and medical doctors as they used a groundbreaking surgical process utilizing skin-derived stem cells.

In actual life, regardless of many years of analysis and big features in technical information round stem cell therapies for Parkinson’s illness, these therapies stay out of attain for most individuals with the illness. Parkinson’s is a mind dysfunction that worsens over time and causes the loss of life of sure nerve cells that usually produce dopamine, which helps coordinate muscle motion. Probably the most generally used surgical therapy for Parkinson’s is deep brain stimulation, which delivers electrical pulses to mind areas affecting motor signs, corresponding to tremors and rigidity.

Nonetheless, given the stakes of this persistent progressive neurological illness going through about 1 million People, it’s value unpacking simply how far-fetched the Hollywood depiction is – or isn’t.

A TV-Prepared Stem Cell Breakthrough

On the present, medical doctors take stem cells from a pores and skin biopsy of a personality with Parkinson’s illness and, “by a posh course of,” rework these cells into dopamine-producing cells. Individuals with Parkinson’s usually have low dopamine ranges within the putamen, part of the mind concerned in motion. By injecting new dopamine-producing cells into the character’s forebrain, the place the putamen is discovered, the medical doctors goal to spice up dopamine ranges.

The process kicks off with a CT scan, which provides the surgical group photographs of what’s described as “an interactive 3D roadmap” of the character’s mind. After a number of extra fast steps – together with drilling of burr holes to stop strain from build up within the mind – a robotic arm brings a hole needle into place. A researcher then removes the stem cells from a cooler and examines them underneath a microscope to substantiate that sufficient cells are alive. Lastly, the cells are injected into the character’s forebrain, beginning with one aspect after which transferring to the opposite.

A lot of what’s depicted on the present is reasonable – if simplified and futuristic – based on Willard Kasoff, MD, an affiliate professor of neurosurgery on the Lewis Katz Faculty of Drugs at Temple College and director of stereotactic and practical neurosurgery at Temple College Hospital.

“It is not science fiction, nevertheless it’s a future present,” he says.

The Actuality of Stem Cell Remedies for Parkinson’s Illness

There have been a number of thrilling stem cell improvements focusing on Parkinson’s in recent times that, on the floor, are harking back to Gray’s Anatomy’s televised “remedy.”

In 2017 and 2018, as an illustration, medical doctors reprogrammed pores and skin cells taken from an individual with Parkinson’s to create “alternative dopamine neurons,” which bought implanted into the individual’s mind. Extra lately, a clinical trial concerned injecting stem cells into the brains of individuals with Parkinson’s with a purpose to restore their dopamine ranges, full with a GPS-like mind scan displaying neurosurgeons the place to inject the cells. Upcoming clinical trials may even use Parkinson’s sufferers’ pores and skin cells to provide alternative dopamine neurons for transplantation.

However such therapies received’t essentially be extensively out there anytime quickly, based on Kasoff. “Cell transplantation is extremely tough and sophisticated,” he says. “It has been labored on for many years, and it is nonetheless early, early analysis trials. So even that type of remedy is probably going years and years away.”

A few of the therapies depend on genetic engineering to transform stem cells into neural progenitor cells, which might grow to be varied cell sorts discovered within the mind – a course of often called differentiating. Neurosurgeons may direct how neural progenitor cells change, corresponding to guiding them to turn into dopamine neurons. The hope is that after these cells are transplanted into the mind, they’ll “determine what to do, or be informed what to do by the encompassing cells,” says Kasoff.

A Future Treatment?

Even when the trials succeed, they could not signify a remedy. As a result of the therapies are directed on the putamen and the substantia nigra (an space the place neuron loss can have an effect on dopamine ranges), they solely tackle motor signs. Parkinson’s illness additionally impacts pondering expertise, steadiness, and different capabilities all through the physique. Cognitive decline can result in dementia and loss of life.

“The thought that you could remedy Parkinson’s by placing cells within the substantia nigra or the putamen might be not true,” Kasoff says.

Additionally, Parkinson’s is usually regarded as a illness of 1 cell sort: the dopaminergic cells within the substantia nigra. However in actuality, Kasoff explains, it’s doubtless a illness with “1000’s of cell sorts,” which makes any potential stem cell-derived remedy extraordinarily advanced. Kind 1 diabetes, then again, is a illness of just one cell sort, and new treatments utilizing insulin-producing cells derived from stem cells might quantity to a remedy.

As for Parkinson’s, says Kasoff, “it might be that the following stem cell trial hits the jackpot, after which we’ll be on to the following step.” That would imply determining the place to transplant stem cells for the cognitive and balance-related signs of the illness, as an illustration.

In the end, he says, “the hope is that what occurs on the present is precisely what is going to occur sooner or later sooner or later.”


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