By Don C. Reed
Five hundred thousand Americans have Parkinson’s Disease (PD). It is hard to visualize half a million people! But try this:
Think of a crowded junior high school at lunchtime, the cafeteria, courtyard and playground jam-packed with happy healthy hollering kids—plus adminstrators, teachers and visiting parents—that’s about one thousand people.
But now the picture darkens. Imagine there were all adults in that school, all fifty years of age and up, and every one had Parkinson’s disease—and there were five hundred such schools– that’s how many Americans have Parkinson’s today.
Parkinson’s attacks the parts of your brain which control motion—like zapping the steering wheel of your car, so that every time you tried to turn, there would be a shock of electricity, throwing off your balance, messing with your coordination, or stopping you altogether.
How much does it cost in medical treatment to care for our half-million friends and neighbors (perhaps yourself?) with Parkinson’s disease?
Roughly eleven billion dollars a year.
When that wave of financial indebtedness strikes, it can devastate a family. Take the smallest cost first. Imagine if you had to come up with an extra five hundred dollars—not too much, but you have to pay it every month—just for medication. What about losing your job, if the disease makes your normal employment impossible? What if the disease gets so bad, the person has to go to an institution—about one hundred thousand dollars a year…
California is fighting back.
The California stem cell program has contributed more than $44 million ($44,278,485) to Parkinson’s research…
This has provided funding for such top-notch scientists as: David Schaffer, Michelle Calos, R. Jeremy Nichols, Daniel Lim, Susan McConnell, Lei Wang, Birgit Schuele, Xianmin Zeng, Fred Gage, Zhuohua Zhang, Stuart Lipton, Su Guo, Steven Finkbeiner, Xinnan Wang, Arold Kriegstein, J. William Langston, Evan Snyder and many more such champions.
They work at some of the most outstanding research institutions in the world: like Stanford University, UC Berkeley, The Parkinson’s Institute, UC San Francisco, the Salk Institute, the Buck Institute for Age Research, the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, the J. David Gladstone Institutes—the best of the best.
How are our scientists trying to fight Parkinson’s?
Basically two ways: first, to develop a disease-in-a-Petri-dish: “Several teams of …researchers are using stem cell techniques to create Parkinson’s disease cells in the lab dish…” (to test new drugs against them.)
Second: to make new and improved cells, so the body can help heal itself. Since dopamine is a molecule which helps nerves control motion, some of our scientists “are creating dopamine-producing cells…in the hope that they could replace the (nerve cells) that are damaged in people with the disease.”
At a time when it is harder and harder to get grants for research, the California stem cell program is standing by our scientists: helping them do the work only they can do: trying to “turn stem cells into cures”, as our official motto states. (That slogan, by the way, was made up by a patient advocate, Roman Reed, my son. )
Would you like the California stem cell program to be renewed when its $3 billion in funding runs out, which it will in a couple of years? I know I would! I am speaking strictly for myself here, having no official connection to the program. But I probably have attended more of the public meetings than anybody, (possibly including staff!) and folks, it is terrific!
Join us at the meetings! (go to and click on “Public Meetings”. It will tell you when and where the meetings are, and what is the agenda. Take part: as a member of the public, you are allowed to speak for three minutes—what if the board was trying to decide about funding a Parkinson’s disease project, and you felt it was promising– wouldn’t you want to be there and speak up?
If you support medical research to fight chronic disease, and want to know more, consider “friending” me at:

Don C. Reed is the author of the forthcoming book, “STEM CELL BATTLES: Proposition 71 and Beyond: How Ordinary People Can Fight Back Against the Crushing Burden of Chronic Disease”. It will be published in October by World Scientific Publishing, Inc., which publishes the Nobel laureates’ biographies.

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