Dan Baker still remembers the day he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease more than a decade ago.
"It hit me real hard. I went into pretty deep depression," he said.
It's a disease where cells in the brain die and are not regenerated. The symptoms are different for everyone.
For the former teacher, it meant trouble with balance and walking.
"I have incredible stiffness if I'm not on top of my game. If I'm not exercising, at times I will freeze," Baker said.
But Wednesday, he received a big spark of hope because what may be considered incurable today may be curable in the future.
The potential remedy comes from something as common as skin cells.
Scientists at Oregon Health & Science University have figured out a way to re-program them into becoming stem cells, which means they're now able to transform into any other cell in the entire body.
"To treat disease, the only way you could do it is to replace those neurons. Unfortunately, you can't take them from anywhere else because they are not available. But now we can make it in a petri dish," Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov from OHSU said.
Doctors say stem cell therapy holds the promise of replacing cells damaged through injury or illness. And since the cell was taken from the patient's own skin cell, there's no concern of transplant rejection.
The possibilities are endless.
"We always dream. We always want something accomplished big, but you never think it could happen to you, so it's amazing that we've been able to accomplish it," Mitalipov said.
What's more, the process does not involve the use of fertilized embryos, a topic that has spurred much controversy in the past.
"I think it's an incredible scientific discovery. If they want a test subject, I'm willing to go tomorrow," Baker said
There is still a lot of work and tests that need to be done before the practice can be used on patients.
Mitalipov estimates it will take several years.
Copyright 2013 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, July 23 2014 7:06 AM EDT2014-07-23 11:06:51 GMT
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