Last week Bradley Fikes of the San Diego Union Tribune wrote about work by our grantee Jeanne Loring, who is helping to develop a therapy for Parkinson’s disease using funds raised by mountain climbing.
Many of her projects are funded by us (here’s a list of her awards), but this one is different. A group of 8 patients who wanted to work with Loring on this therapy are raising money through a project called Summit4StemCell, in which patients climb a mountain to raise funds. They’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and in October plan to climb to base camp at Mount Everest.
Conveniently, Loring and another scientist on the project Suzanne Peterson both recently explained their work to us as part of our elevator pitch challenge, in which grantees give short descriptions of their work. (Peterson’s explanation came in second in the non-lead scientist competition.) Here’s the project in their own words:
This project is unusual in that patients are directly funding the development of therapies that they hope to benefit from. The more normal funding strategy is for patients to donate to their disease organization, like the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego, and that organization funds promising research.
Fikes goes on to write about this unusual situation:
For the patients, the project represents new hope. Loring’s researchers say they also benefit from actually getting to know the people their research is devoted to. It makes the science less abstract and more human.
“The patients and the researchers feed off each other,” said TSRI researcher Suzanne Peterson. “The patients get more hopeful, and the researchers get more motivated. And that’s such an unusual situation. We feel this responsibility to make this work for them. I think it’s nice to have that interaction between the patients and the researchers.”
The team still has a lot of hurdles ahead, as with all potential therapies involving transplanting stem cells into patients—whether they are embryonic or reprogrammed cells as in this case. The team needs to show the FDA that the approach could work and is safe, which can be time consuming and costly, and they have to carry out clinical trials to see if the cells actually treat the disease symptoms.