HOUSTON — More than ten million people worldwide are living with Parkinson's Disease, including 60,000 Americans.
A new therapy, currently in trials, is proving to be a game-changer for those people facing the chronic, progressive disease that is classified as neuro-degenerative, which means it changes and continues to get worse over time.
It's gotten worse over the last ten years for Marie Bott.
"It's nice to know I'm not flaring my arms around."
As her disease progressed, she wasn't able to do the things she loves.
"I totally lost my ability to swim. When I tried to swim, I would just go right to the bottom."
But then Marie was referred to a trial using stem cells to treat Parkinson's.
"This kind of treatment approach will actually address maybe halting the progression of the disease, which would be very powerful, explained Dr. Mya Schiess, Movement Disorder Specialist with UTHealth Neurosciences.
In the trial, Parkinson's patients are injected with a single dose of stem cells with varying concentrations from a healthy adult's bone marrow.
Then they're followed for a year after the infusion.
All the patients had improvements in motor function, reduction in inflammatory markers in the blood, and an increased ability to perform daily functions.
Marie says the infusion of stem cells also had a surprising side effect.
"My skin became much younger looking, so much so that friends said to me had I changed my beauty regimen because I didn't appear to be so wrinkled."
But she mostly credits the treatment for allowing her to continue her daily activities, like making breakfast and walking her dog.
"It just makes for a happier, more productive life, if you can do the things you like to do."
Dr. Schiess says the phase one trial is the first of its kind done in the United States with FDA approval.
A phase two trial is already in the works and started recruiting back in March.
No cause known
The cause of Parkinson's is unknown.
The symptoms include tremors, mainly at rest, limb rigidity, as well as gait and balance problems.
Parkinson's alone is not fatal but problems occurring because of the diagnosis can be serious.
Patients can live with Parkinson's and should work with their doctor in finding therapies that manage their symptoms.
Taking dopamine medication can also help with the diagnosis since the brain makes less dopamine than the average person.
Patients experience the symptoms of Parkinson's after the disease has already done a significant amount of damage to the dopamine cells.
Non-motor symptoms have also been found with Parkinson's; they involve apathy, depression, constipation, sleep behavior disorders, loss of sense of smell and cognitive impairment.
Cutting the number of doctor's visits
While there is no cure for Parkinson's, some advancements have been made to lesson the impact of the disease on the patient.
Telemedicine can offer the patients some relief as traveling to a doctor's office and planning visits can be difficult for the patient due to their physical ailments.
Sensor modalities that can be practiced from a virtual-home session are also helpful to the patient.
Applications, or apps, have been developed to address patients' specific needs.
They record and track the data gathered by the sensors already built into phones.
Apps like memory games, finger tapping, speaking, and walking are all helpful when virtually communicating with the patient.