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 workforce of researchers and docs as they used a groundbreaking surgical process utilizing skin-derived stem cells.

In actual life, regardless of a long time of analysis and big beneficial properties 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. Essentially the most generally used surgical remedy for Parkinson’s is deep brain stimulation, which delivers electrical pulses to mind areas affecting motor signs, akin to tremors and rigidity.

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

A TV-Prepared Stem Cell Breakthrough

On the present, docs take stem cells from a pores and skin biopsy of a personality with Parkinson’s illness and, “by way of a fancy course of,” remodel these cells into dopamine-producing cells. Individuals with Parkinson’s sometimes 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 docs goal to spice up dopamine ranges.

The process kicks off with a CT scan, which provides the surgical workforce pictures of what’s described as “an interactive 3D roadmap” of the character’s mind. After just a few extra fast steps – together with drilling of burr holes to stop strain from increase 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 below a microscope to verify that sufficient cells are alive. Lastly, the cells are injected into the character’s forebrain, beginning with one aspect after which shifting to the opposite.

A lot of what’s depicted on the present is life like – if simplified and futuristic – in keeping with Willard Kasoff, MD, an affiliate professor of neurosurgery on the Lewis Katz College of Medication at Temple College and director of stereotactic and practical neurosurgery at Temple College Hospital.

“It isn’t science fiction, but it surely’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 example, docs reprogrammed pores and skin cells taken from an individual with Parkinson’s to create “substitute dopamine neurons,” which acquired implanted into the particular person’s mind. Extra just lately, a clinical trial concerned injecting stem cells into the brains of individuals with Parkinson’s with the intention to restore their dopamine ranges, full with a GPS-like mind scan exhibiting neurosurgeons the place to inject the cells. Upcoming clinical trials will even use Parkinson’s sufferers’ pores and skin cells to supply substitute dopamine neurons for transplantation.

However such therapies gained’t essentially be broadly accessible anytime quickly, in keeping with 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 form of remedy is probably going years and years away.”

A number of the therapies depend on genetic engineering to transform stem cells into neural progenitor cells, which might develop into varied cell sorts discovered within the mind – a course of often known as differentiating. Neurosurgeons may also direct how neural progenitor cells change, akin to guiding them to turn out to be dopamine neurons. The hope is that when these cells are transplanted into the mind, they’ll “work out 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 characterize 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 considering expertise, stability, and different features all through the physique. Cognitive decline can result in dementia and loss of life.

“The concept which 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 commonly regarded as a illness of 1 cell sort: the dopaminergic cells within the substantia nigra. However in actuality, Kasoff explains, it’s seemingly a illness with “hundreds of cell sorts,” which makes any potential stem cell-derived remedy extraordinarily advanced. Kind 1 diabetes, however, 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 could 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 example.

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


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