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Fighting Parkinson’s

Development of a patient-specific stem cell therapy for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease

Harvard University
Cambridge, MA Dr. Penny Hallett
Dr. Ole Isacson

The National Stem Cell Foundation (NSCF) and The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) are partnering to fund the pre-clinical development of a therapy to replace the dopamine-producing neurons that are lost in Parkinson’s disease, the second most common brain disease after Alzheimer’s.

The partnership supports the translational work of Dr. Penny Hallett, Director of the Neuroregeneration Institute at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital, and Dr. Ole Isacson, founding Director of the Neuroregeneration Institute and principal faculty of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Engineering skin stem cells to become patient-specific dopamine-producing neurons, the goal is to implant the neurons developed from a patient’s own skin cells to alleviate or prevent Parkinson’s motor symptoms of tremor, rigidity and slowness.

Having worked together since 2006 at the Neuroregeneration Research Institute, Drs Isacson and Hallett’s lab is accelerating the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative brain disorders. The lab’s novel research team has a keen focus on improving individuals’ lives, and their work has been the basis for numerous innovations that are creating hope for patients and their families.

The lab works to move the field forward by approaching new treatments using novel findings in the modeling of synaptic and neuroplasticity responses. This effort includes new basic neuroscience models for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as cognitive models for aging research and neuropsychiatrically linked diseases.

Biography for Dr. Hallett:

Dr. Penny Hallett is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Neuroregeneration Research Institute. She received her PhD from the University of Manchester, UK, before completing post-doctoral studies at Massachusetts General Hospital, moving to McLean Hospital to join the Neuroregeneration Research Institute, founded by Dr. Ole Isacson.

Dr. Hallett’s research interests focus on understanding early neuronal dysfunction and degeneration in neurodegenerative diseases with a focus on Parkinson’s disease, and testing therapeutic interventions using regenerative and neuroprotective strategies. Her research aims to understand neurodegenerative diseases not only as central nervous system disorders, but also as systemic diseases involving the periphery, and also tests how aging processes can modulate cellular function and vulnerability. Since 2009, Dr. Hallett has been an editor for Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience.

Her research focuses on identifying how cell biological processes are disrupted in Parkinson’s disease and aging, with the overarching goal of working to identify novel biomarkers and neuroprotective strategies for Parkinson’s disease, as well as other neurological disorders.

Biography for Dr. Isacson:

Dr. Ole Isacson is a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and founding director of Neuroregeneration Research Institute at McLean Hospital. His work is focused on the understanding and treatments of neurodegenerative disease, with particular emphasis on distinguishing critical mechanisms and treatments of neuronal vulnerability at the onset of disease, or new restorative treatments using stem cells after symptoms. He is author or co-author of over 300 scientific research articles and several books in his field.

He received his MB in 1983 from the University of Lund, Sweden and his PhD in Medical Neurobiology also from there four years later. He directly followed that with a Research Fellowship in Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge from 1987-1989, and in 2002 he was awarded an honorary MA from Harvard.

Professional appointments include, Scientific Advisory Board of the Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center, principal faculty of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Executive Scientific Advisory Board of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (2014-2016), elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, 2014), member, FDA Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee (CTGTAC), editor-in-chief of the journal, Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience.