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Timely Decisions and Prospects for Genetic Research

Two concomitant pieces of good news provide fresh impetus towards the genetic understanding and control of a crippling ailment. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder responsible for a painful contracture and agitation of muscles at rest and a serious impediment to safe and proper locomotion. The lifetime incidence is in the order of 2.5% with a prevalence of at least 2% in persons over 70 years of age.

Neither ingenuity nor monies alone can assist medical efforts to overcome this dangerous health threat. The good news is that both may come together again, thanks to newly revised legislation and a fresh supply of funds and technology.

On the one hand, for the sake of lifting restrictions imposed by the former US Administration on the use of human stem cells for medical research, President Obama has instructed the US National Institute of Health to devise guidelines authorizing support of such research and the limits to be placed upon it.

As far as PD – a defect of the Dopamine producing neurons of the brain – is concerned, stem-cell-based strategies for its treatment through healthy cell substitution, including implantation into ad hoc areas, are one of the priorities of current therapeutic efforts. Aside from such therapeutic attempts, as of yet in their infancy, scientists expect that a way to study diseased cells is to use those of patients with the disorder, create genetically similar embryos through the transfer of their nuclei into eggs deprived of their own, and grow them for adequate studies of their pathology, starting from the embryonic stem cells thus obtained.

On the other hand, and an all-important aspect of such studies, the co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, is committed to contributing money to a genetic study recruiting some 10,000 PD affected patients to investigate the flaw(s) of their DNA and better understand their bearing on the continuing pathology. And to add ingenuity to such welcome financial support, it is the laboratory company co-founded by his wife, Anne Wojcicki, in Mountain View, California, that is to carry out the intended research effort.

I have relished in contributing to the dissemination of this “good news” to The Good Times which, through its founder’s inspiration, intends to be a site for the diffusion of the often overlooked positive news in our time.

Eric Engel, MD

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