Authors: Lauren Pulling
It is estimated that as many as 1 million people in the USA live with Parkinson’s disease, and while there is not yet a cure, it seems that we are edging closer to solving the enigma that is Parkinson’s disease. This World Parkinson’s Day, we speak to Curt Freed, a Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology, Neurology and Neuroscience and Director of the Neurotransplantation Program for Parkinson’s Disease at the University of Colorado School of Medicine (CO, USA). In 1988, Prof Freed, along with his colleague Robert Breeze, pioneered the use of human fetal dopamine cell transplantation in a Parkinson’s disease patient. Since then, they have continued to refine the technique, as well as develop and trial new treatment avenues for the disease. In this interview, Prof Freed discusses his distinguished career in Parkinson’s research and treatment, and how he hopes the field will progress in the next decade.
First, please could you tell us a little about your background and current work?
At Harvard College and then Harvard Medical School (MA, USA), I marvelled at the success of David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel in figuring out how the visual system worked. They opened up the field of neuroscience for major discoveries. I decided to join. After doing residency training in Internal Medicine and Psychiatry, I started working on Parkinson’s disease (PD) during a fellowship in Clinical Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco (CA, USA). After joining the faculty of the University of Colorado (CO, USA) in 1975, my research progressed over the next decade to transplanting fetal monkey dopamine neurons into a monkey model of PD. These experiments showed that the principles of brain cell transplantation developed in rats by labs at NIH and in Sweden starting in 1979 applied to non-human primates. By 1988, with approval of our human research review committee, my neurosurgical colleague Robert Breeze (University of Colorado) and I performed the first fetal dopamine cell transplant into an American patient with PD.
Could you tell us more about the first transplantation of human fetal dopamine cells into a PD patient? What does this technique involve?