Carmel Valley resident plans Mount Kilimanjaro hike to raise funds for Parkinson’s disease research
By Karen Billing
Carmel Valley nurse practitioner Sherrie Gould is leading a team of hikers up Mount Kilimanjaro this year to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s disease research.
Since March, Gould and 14 hikers, all of whom are Parkinson’s patients or family members, have been training for “Summit 4 Stem Cell,” aiming not only to conquer the 19,339-foot African peak but make a contribution toward the groundbreaking non-embryonic stem cell research going on right here in San Diego.
“This new therapy would hold huge promise for people with Parkinson’s,” said Gould, who works in the Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines’ Division of Neurology.
She said while many people have heard of embryonic stem cell research, not many know about stem cells made from a patient’s own cells.
“We are truly on the cutting edge and that’s what makes this so exciting,” Gould said.
Summit 4 Stem Cell invites the public to come out and hike with them this Saturday, May 28, at 10 a.m. at the base of Torrey Pines State Park. Gould said it will not only help raise awareness for their mission but it’s also just a great healthy hike for anyone.
“The more people we can get out there the more amazing it will be,” said Gould. “We want it to be a big deal, we’d love the support, it’s really important for those of us in training.”
Summit 4 Stem Cell plans to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro on Sept. 4, a journey to the summit that is expected to take seven days.
“It is a grueling, very tough climb,” Gould said. “You have to be in incredibly great physical shape.”
Gould is doing her best to get her team ready—in their training they will hike Iron Mountain next week and San Jacinto, an 11,000-foot peak in June.
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the brain and nervous system that progresses with the loss of dopaminergic neurons. Gould describes it as a debilitating disease that effects movement, balance and “executive functions” that we sometimes take for granted. The average age of diagnosis is 62 years old.
The pilot project is being conducted by Dr. Jeanne Loring, director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine at Scripps Research Institute, and Dr. Melissa Houser, director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center and the Deep Brain Stimulation Center at the Scripps Clinic.
“What makes this research incredibly unique and amazing is that the technology now exists to take skin cells and create pluripotent stem cells,” Gould said.
The pluripotent stem calls have the ability to become any cell in the body and can also become dopaminergic neurons. Considering many Parkinson’s patients have lost 80 percent of their dopaminergic neurons, it’s like “filling the bucket back up in a sense,” she said.
“No one has discovered how to cure Parkinson’s, but this is a treatment to help stay ahead of the disease,” Gould said.
Phase two of their program, which will include FDA approval, will take those banked cells and make an extremely pure colony of cells made from the patient’s own cells.
By using the patient’s own skin cells, they are bypassing the ethical and political hurdles that have accompanied stem cell research to date.
Beyond the research, Gould has always been a big advocate for exercise as it can impact the course of Parkinson’s disease.
She said the hike really sums up everything she stresses with patients — exercise, attitude, determination and going beyond perceived limitations.
“We know the climb is a courageous act,” Gould said. “It’s our way of inspiring all who face seemingly insurmountable odds to rise above them and escape the limitations we all set for ourselves.”
All hikers are paying their own way for the trip and all money raised will go to fund the pilot project. All donations are tax-deductible and fundraising has the support of the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego. Donations can be made by visiting www.summit4stemcell.org. The group is also looking for Parkinson’s patients who would like to join them on the Kilimanjaro climb. If interested, call (858) 554-9924.
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