Health Alert: Eye on Parkinson's

NATIONAL - Actor Michael J. Fox's battle with Parkinson's has brought the disease to the forefront for most Americans. Millions of dollars go into research to help the more the 40,000 that are diagnosed each year, and new research at the University of Arizona could slow the progression of the debilitating disease.

Sharon Kha was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2003, "When I was told that I had Parkinson's, it just felt like I was in an elevator on a high-rise that just went into free fall."

The neurodegenerative disorder often goes undiagnosed for years, because the first symptoms are subtle, like trouble with handwriting or stiffness in the arm or shoulder.

"It's due to the loss or degeneration of a very special type of brain cell that makes this chemical message dopamine."

"I think the most frustrating thing about Parkinson's is once you've been diagnosed there is nothing you can do."

Researchers like Scott Sherman are trying to help.

They believe transplanting cells into the brains of Parkinson's patients may be the answer.

"We think that one of the most promising cell types to use for treatment of Parkinson's Disease is a cell type called RPE, that's short for retinal pigment epithelial cells."

Doctor Sherman says these RPE cells, which normally provide nourishment to the retina, are ideal because they make dopamine naturally and they also produce growth substances which could slow the progression of Parkinson's.

"I think that Parkinson's Disease is going to be one of the first neurodegenerative disorders that we really can control and contain."

"The kind of research that Doctor Sherman is doing is really the only hopeful thing I've seen since I've been diagnosed."

It's a hopeful outlook for all those suffering from the disease.

Doctor Sherman says RPE cells have proven successful in other studies in helping with Parkinson's symptoms.

He says if they work to slow the progression of the disease they can then go to clinical trial.

While hopeful, this means patients probably won't see the benefits for years to come.

Posted by Bryce Mursch