Stem cells are immature cells in the body that have the potential to turn into many different cell types. Cells like this are important to the growth and development of a fetus. They also help the body repair and rejuvenate cells that are damaged. Stem cells come from different sources.
- Embryonic and Fetal. Cells from embryos just a few days old and fetal tissue are the most immature stem cells and are pluripotent or have the ability to grow into any cell type in our body. Ethical and political tensions have limited the use and research with these types of cells, causing researchers to look for other sources.
- Adult stem cells are an alternative to embryonic cells. These cells are found in very small quantity in certain tissues. In 2007 scientists made a major breakthrough when they found ways to induce or reprogram these cells to turn into other cells. These cells are multipotent as they can only turn into certain types of cells and are more limited in their ability to proliferate.
- Umbilical cord stem cells are derived from the umbilical cord of a newborn baby. No blood or tissue is taken from the baby so it has no impact on the pregnancy, delivery or safety of the infant. Some people are donating cord blood from related children at birth for private storage or public storage bank donation. It must be stressed that this is not a current treatment for Parkinson’s disease. See the National Marrow Donor Program for more information…
What problems stand in the way?
- Ethical arguments continue to cloud stem cell research despite the tremendous promise and potential effect on human suffering.
- Stem cells especially more immature pluripotent cells divide easily and scientist need to understand how to turn this growth off. This is like designing a care with a gas pedal and no break. Uncontrolled growth could cause unwanted tumor growth.
- Stem cells could potentially be rejected by the body’s immune system so immune suppressant treatment may be needed to protect some cell lines in the body.
- More mature adult stem cells can contain genetic abnormalities that occur naturally with aging and exposure to toxins or even sunlight.
Is there a toxin or something in the environment that causes Parkinson’s?
Epidemiological studies analyze large populations to understand trends, and identify certain risk factors for develop of Parkinson’s disease. It is important to note that these studies do not determine whether an increase risk is true for an individual person but simply the population at large. Although epidemiologic studies identify several potential risk factors, they are clearly not the sole cause. A combination of events or risks must take place to cause the disease such as exposure to a toxin and inheriting the genetic risk (either risk alone would not cause the disease
Are there certain areas where Parkinson’s incidence is increased?
Some studies show an increase risk of developing Parkinson’s in more rural farming communities and in areas with well water as a primary source of drinking water. This may be related to exposure to pesticides in farming community.
Do certain occupations increase the risk?
Initial reports suggested welders had an increased risk of getting PD yet more recent reports dispute that claim. Trichloroethylene (TCA) a chemical used in dry cleaning also was associated with a greater risk of getting PD. Soldiers exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War are now eligible for disability compensation from the Veterans Administration.
What about pesticides?
Probably the strongest link between Parkinson’s risk and the environment is the exposure to high level pesticides. Paraquot, rotenone and permethrin (used to kill mosquitos) are under active study. It is important to realize that most people with everyday exposure and even higher level industrial exposure through their occupation do not develop Parkinson’s. This reinforces the idea that these toxins increase ones risk and other factors such as genetics work together to play a causative role in Parkinson’s
Do Industrial chemicals and metals increase the risk?
Solvents such as TCA and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may be associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s. Manganese, lead and copper are examples of metals that are being studied.
What about the food we eat? Noted only in one small study, men who drink milk (but not cheese or other dairy) have a higher risk of Parkinson’s. The problem does not appear to be due to calcium, vitamin or fat present in milk. Whether this is related to chemicals and hormones present in milk or the effect of milk on our body’s physiology is not known. Drinking milk does not change your disease or rate of progression once you have Parkinson’s.
What should I do to reduce my risk?
- Avoid exposure to pesticides. if you must use them be sure to wear gloves and a mask.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables
- Learn about the ‘Dirty dozen’ and ‘Clean Fifteen’. This is a list of fruits and vegetables published each year found to have the highest degree of contamination with pesticides and related chemicals and the safest, respectively
- Reduce the amount of meat you eat in your diet
- Eat a diet high in antioxidants (colorful fruits and vegetables.)
Is Parkinson’s hereditary?
Scientists have discovered abnormal genes associated with Parkinson’s and have identified up to 18 gene loci (potential DNA sites) that may be involved. These abnormal genes increase one’s risk but do not directly cause the disease. It is thought that more than one factor (like environmental toxins) needs to also be present to develop the disease. In most cases genetics testing is not typically performed, because the presence of an abnormal gene does not necessarily determine if one would get PD.
A family history of PD in a first degree relative is seen in about 15% of people with PD. There is a 2x risk of developing PD if you have a family history of PD in a first degree relative. Although increased, this risk is still relatively low.
Check back later this year as more information will be posted by genetics experts in a future edition of the Wellness Center.