Beneficiary of Adult Stem Cell Treatment for Parkinson's Disease: Safaris and Swimming with Sharks

Testimony at Senate Committee on Science, Technology, and Space Hearing: Adult Stem Cell Research, Wednesday, July 14 2004 by Dr. Dennis Turner

Thank you, Chairman Brownback, for your interest in Parkinson’s Disease, in my treatment by Dr. Levesque, and in my hopes and concerns for the future.

For fourteen years I’ve had Parkinson’s Disease. This irreversible disease involves the slow destruction of specialized cells in the brain, called Dopamine Neurons. By early 1991 I suffered extreme shaking of the right side of my body, stiffness in my gait and movements. After some years of medication, I developed fluctuation and poor response to Sinemet. This made daily activities needing the coordinated use of both hands hard or impossible, such as putting in contact lenses. My disability prevented me from using my right arm.

Other than my Parkinson’s symptoms I was physically very active and fit. Because of this Dr. Levesque felt that I’d be a good candidate for an experimental treatment. He explained that he would take a very small tissue sample from my brain, removing its adult neural stem cells. He would then multiply and mature these cells into Dopamine Neurons, then inject these cells back into the left side of my brain. He proposed treating only the left side because it controls the right side of the body, the side with the most severe Parkinson’s symptoms.

Dr Levesque did not tell me that this treatment would permanently cure my condition. Science has yet to learn what causes Parkinson’s Disease, much less how to remove it. However, since this cell-replacement approach had never been tried in a human patient we hoped for the best. And since my only other realistic alternative was to continue growing worse until I eventually died, I decided to have the surgical procedures in 1999, one to remove the tissue and another to inject the cells. I was awake for both procedures, under local anesthesia.

Soon after having the cells injected my Parkinson’s symptoms began to improve. My trembling grew less and less, until to all appearances it was gone, only slightly reappearing if I became upset. Dr. Levesque had me tested by a Neurologist, who said he wouldn’t have known I had Parkinson’s if he had met me on the street. I was once again able to use my right hand and arm normally, enjoying activities that I given up hope of ever doing.

Since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease my condition had slowly, but continuously worsened. I can’t say with certainty what my condition would have become if Dr. Levesque had not used my own adult stem cells to treat me. But I have no doubt that because of this treatment I’ve enjoyed five years of quality life that I feared had passed me by.

Last year, after four years of being virtually symptom free, my Parkinson’s symptoms began reappearing in my body’s left side. Today I have various degrees of trembling in both hands, although I feel that the left is slightly worse. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to have Dr. Levesque use my adult stem cells to treat me a second time, since in my case they were safe, effective, and involved no risk of rejection.

Because of my improvements through Dr. Levesque’s treatment I’ve been able to indulge in my passion for big game photography these past five years. While on safari in 2001 I scrambled up a tree to avoid being run over by a Rhino. I swam in the South Atlantic with Great White Sharks. Two weeks ago I returned from Africa after photographing Cheetahs and Leopards in the wild. Here are a few examples of the pictures I took. They represent memories and experiences I feel I have Dr. Levesque to thank for. I came here to offer him my sincere gratitude, and to offer others with Parkinson’s a concrete reason for hope.

This summarizes my history with Parkinson’s and the positive effects I experienced through a treatment that used my own adult stem cells. I’m very happy with its results and would dearly love to have a second treatment.

As posted on the Web site of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and reposted on Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics (