Researcher touts stem cell advances

The promise of human stem-cell research in developing a cure for Parkinson’s disease is very real, according to Dr. Benjamin Reubinoff, director of the Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center in Israel.

While it’s hard to speculate on the exact timing of the research breakthroughs, “we hope that it will be within the next 10 years,” said Reubinoff, who shared his cutting-edge research at the first Santa Barbara Hadassah Health Forum on Jan. 27.

In a morning presentation to selected UCSB faculty and guests, “35 people sat in awe,” said Sissy Taran, vice president of Santa Barbara Hadassah Group. That lecture will also be broadcast to in Santa Barbara and throughout the United States, Taran said.

Reubinoff also shared his findings with more than 100 doctors at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital last week, said Dr. Alex Weinstein.

Reubinoff leads a medical research team at Israel’s Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, which has successfully used stem cells to treat rats with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Embryonic stem cells are capable of changing to form different cells with a wide variety of functions throughout the body. The Hadassah University experiment indicated the stem cells developed into nerve cells, which had previously been lost through Parkinson’s.

“These observations are encouraging, and set the stage for future development that may eventually allow the use of embryonic stem cells for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease in humans,” Reubinoff explained at a public forum at Cottage Hospital, which about 100
people attended.

However, he said, “Further studies would be needed … because the safety of the treatment could not yet be assured.”

“Over 16 million patients worldwide suffer from neurodegenerative disorders, and stem cells could potentially be used to treat any disorder associated with death or malfunction of cells.”

Originally published in South Coast Beacon on January 29, 2005.