FOR THOSE FIGHTING PARKINSON'S DISEASE... THE ACT OF FIGHTING MIGHT BE AN EFFECTIVE THERAPY.
BACK IN JULY... KPBS HEALTH REPORTER SUSAN MURPHY BROUGHT US THIS STORY ABOUT HOW BOXING IS HELPING PATIENTS IN SAN DIEGO
In a gym in Northpark, there's a boxing class that seems pretty typical, except for one thing. Everyone here is fighting Parkinson's disease.
The neurological disorder progressively deteriorates motor skills, balance and speech. Some symptoms can be eased for a short while with medication, but there is currently no cure.
01:00:40 SUE RODE: We're all fighting the same battle and all wishing the best for the other person.
So, these 20 Parkinson's fighters, including Sue Rode who was diagnosed with the life-altering disorder 15 years ago….. are taking matters into their own hands.
01:00:12 SUE: This keeps you going and keeps you energetic, and muscle control and balance.
Several times a week, they wrap their hands in cloth or put on gloves, and push themselves during a 90 minute, non-contact boxing workout. It's tailored to help people with Parkinson's combat their symptoms. Research shows high-intensity exercise like boxing slows the disease's progression.
00:17:45 I've seen people come in here hardly able to walk, but within a couple of weeks they're boxing, they're moving around. It's amazing, it really is.
John Pistacchi was diagnosed three years ago but started noticing tremors in his hands long before that.
00:15:08 John Pistacchi: I really feel its slowed down the progression to the point that after three years I don't think I've seen that much change in my ability.
Ron Lalk, a Navy veteran and retired airline pilot has had the disease for 11 years.
01:13:1;4 It gives me more energy and just overall well being.
The class, part of a national program called Rock Steady Boxing is run by Mike Reeder, who owns the gym.
01:23:16 When you start noticing Parkinson's, the movements get really small, the steps are small, you might be hunched over, but with boxing you kind of don't have a choice. You put on these big boxing gloves, you feel big and strong.
He's given everyone a "fighter" name.
01:25:36 REEDER: When they come in the gym they're a Parkinson's fighter, they're not just a person with Parkinson's.
Each class starts with leg lunges and balancing exercises…
01:20:35 We play games every class, we do a get to know you question for voice activation. So everyone's really loud if you notice (nat pop of loud class)
1:23:41 REEDER: The agility, the speed, the coordination --all that plays into boxing and that's why the fit is so perfect.
While these Parkinson's fighters are working up a sweat, researchers in La Jolla are working on a cure.
SCRIPPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE
00:01:12 (CLIP OOOO1) It's reasonable hope right now. We don't know how long it will take before we can expand this to a larger number of patients.
Jeanne Loring is a professor at the Scripps Research Institute. She's preparing to launch a clinical trial on 10 Parkinson's patients next year. It involves transplanting healthy brain cells to replace the cells killed off by the disease. (Nat pop in lab) Parkinson's destroys brain cells that make a substance called dopamine. Dopamine allows nerve cells to communicate with muscles.
00:01:51 (CLIP: 00000) LORING: So what we propose to do is replace those neurons in the brain with the people's own dopamine neurons and we make those neurons by taking a little bit of their skin…
The skin cells are grown in a lab and reprogrammed in a month's time into a master cell called pluripotent stem cells.
00:03:28: (CLIP: 00000) LORING: These cells can make every cell type in your body including nerve cells.
Loring says the process has taken five years to perfect. The transplant has been successfully tested in rats. Next comes the yearlong FDA approval process, set to begin this fall.
00:10:30 (CLIP: 000000 LORING: I can't say the word cure, I'm not going to say the word cure until I actually see the results from our patients and their studies.
But Loring says it's promising. Her research shows a reversal of Parkinson's symptoms starting about 6 months after the brain cell transplant.
00:11:05 (CLIP OOOOOO) LORING: It will be like they had functioning dopamine neurons in their brain like they did before. So we expect people to have a full recovery starting in about a year and then onward get better and better.
If all goes well during the first trial, she hopes to expand the treatment to a large number of patients soon after.
00:03:52 (CLIP: 000001) LORING: Multiple sights... and so we should be able to move fairly quickly. When I say quickly I mean not ten years, not five years, probably less than that.
She says the same therapy could also work for Multiple Sclerosis, ALS and Alzheimer's.
00:07:59 (CLIP; 000001) So stem cell replacement therapy is a reality that's going to become a much more - a much larger part of medicine over the next few years.
In the meantime, Box Fit gym in northpark is providing a safe haven for people battling Parkinson's to keep their disease in check and their spirits high.
01:02:48 Rode: Parkinson's is a disease that's difficult for a lot of people. If they would fight it early, if they would get exercising and join a group like this - it's so helpful.
Together, they're determined to keep fighting until the disease is knocked out.
Susan Murphy, KPBS News.