In 1996, Dr. Wilmut and a team of scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh cloned an adult sheep, resulting in the birth of Dolly. The achievement shocked researchers who had said it could not be done.
But Dolly’s birth proved that cells from anywhere in the body could behave like a newly fertilized egg, an idea that transformed scientific thinking and encouraged researchers to find techniques to reprogram adult cells.
The new research led to the discovery of induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPSCs, which hold great promise as a therapy for Parkinson’s because of their potential to repair damaged tissues, according to the Dundee-Edinburgh Parkinson’s Research Initiative.
These stem cells are now being used at the MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh to develop drug-based treatments for Parkinson’s and other diseases. The first clinical trials of iPSCs treatment for Parkinson’s will be held in Japan this year, the initiative said.
“All attempts to slow the progression of Parkinson’s have thus far failed,” Prof. Dario Alessi, a biochemist at the University of Dundee in Scotland, said in an email on Thursday. He highlighted that the most widely used Parkinson’s drug today, levodopa, was first used in the clinic in 1967.
“However, in recent years, our knowledge of the genetics and biology underlining Parkinson’s disease has exploded,” Professor Alessi said. “I feel optimistic and it is not unrealistic that with a coordinated research effort, major strides towards better treating Parkinson’s disease can be made.”
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Dr. Wilmut said he decided to announce his diagnosis because he thought it might be useful in the context of research.
“There was a sense of clarity, well, at least now we know, and we can start doing things about it,” he said in an interview with BBC Scotland. “As well as, obviously, the disappointment that it will possibly shorten my life slightly, and more particularly it will alter the quality of life.”
He lives in a hilly and rural part of Scotland and likes to walk, but he said that physical activity had become more difficult since his diagnosis.
Dr. Wilmut told The Times of London that he was happy to “act as a guinea pig and either donate tissue or try new treatments.”
Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement and can cause involuntary shaking. So far, treatments are available to manage the symptoms, but there is no medicine or therapy to slow or stop the progression of the disease.
“People with Parkinson’s urgently require access to earlier and more accurate diagnosis, better prediction of how their disease will progress and, most importantly, the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of new treatments,” Dr. Tilo Kunath, a group leader at the MRC Center for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh, said in an email.
“She’s been a friendly face of science,” Dr. Wilmut said in an interview with The New York Times after her death. “She was a very friendly animal that was part of a big scientific breakthrough.”