Cover image for Healing the brain : a doctor's controversial quest for a cell therapy to cure Parkinson's disease
Healing the brain : a doctor's controversial quest for a cell therapy to cure Parkinson's disease
Freed, Curt.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Times Books/Henry Holt, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiv, 269 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RC382 .F744 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In May 1995, neurologist Curt Freed began one of the most dramatic experiments in the history of medicine: the attempt to treat sufferers of Parkinson's disease by grafting human stem cells into their brains.Of the forty patients who volunteered for Freed's new treatment, half underwent authentic surgery. The other half, who had received placebo surgery, felt their last hope dissolve into bitter frustration. But the hardest road lay ahead for those who had been given the highly experimental procedure. Healing the Brain captures the emotional events that unfolded in the months afterward as Freed, his researchers, and their courageous, desperate patients awaited the outcome and witnessed a moral debate unfolding across the nation over embryonic stem-cell medicine. Would the brain regenerate itself or reject the new cells? This pioneering team was willing to take perilous risks to find out. Healing the Brain is a moving, fascinating narrative about discovery and disillusionment, conflict and compassion, suffering and - for some - amazing success.

Author Notes

Curt Freed is the director of the neuroscience and neurotransplant programs at the University of Colorado and the director of the National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

After much experience with Parkinson's disease (PD), clinical and research neuroscientist Freed decided the best approach to treating it would be attempting to repair the brain. Drugs could help symptoms, but they left much to be desired. So, too, does the state of PD research and treatment, despite the encouraging developments of the past 40 years of therapeutic investigation, the account of which is just one aspect of this intriguing book. Unhappily, another is politics. Freed and LeVay demonstrate how three U.S. presidents prevented fetal-cell transplant work in PD (there are no substitutes for the specific cells involved), thereby harming potentially treatable patients and their families. The stories of Freed's early patients are fascinating, but the most important story here is that of the preparation and approval of the first-of-its-kind double-blind study of PD therapy, including patient-by-patient descriptions of the subjects. LeVay, an experienced author as well as a fellow neuroscientist, helps Freed make the book solid and readable. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

Freed, director of the neuroscience and neurotransplant programs at the University of Colorado, organized some of the earliest American fetal tissue transplant experiments on Parkinson's Disease patients in 1995. Here, he collaborates with science writer LeVay (The Sexual Brain) to recount his controversial double-blind studies. Freed gives a brief background on the biology of the disease and the history of Parkinson's treatments, but most of the book is devoted to his own surgical experiment, which involved 40 volunteer Parkinson's patients, half of whom received transplanted cells while the other group underwent sham surgeries. Freed describes the surgical procedures in detail, following particular patients through their operations and convalescence. The results of the study were mixed some patients showed vast improvement while others showed little and Freed speculates about why this was and what it means for future treatments and research. He also describes the various political roadblocks his team encountered, beginning with the Reagan administration's first moratorium on federal funding for fetal tissue research in 1987. Indeed, for some readers Freed's use of fetal cells, as well as his reliance on double-blind studies, may raise ethical questions. Nonetheless, the book is a lucid and engrossing medical detective story that will especially interest those whose lives have been affected by the disease. The medical details may stymie some readers, though Freed goes far in making these accessible to those without a science background. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A pioneer in fetal-tissue graft surgery for Parkinson's disease and director of the National Parkinson's Foundation Center for Excellence, Freed documents the disorder's history and treatments. He discusses his initial involvement with neurology and later specialization in Parkinson's studies and details the discovery that the loss of the chemical dopamine in the brain causes Parkinson's incapacitating symptoms. His implementation of a procedure in 1994, in which monkeys with a Parkinson's-like disease had dopamine cells from embryos transplanted into their brains, showed great promise for humans. The parallel studies of other scientists are also highlighted. Freed details outcomes from the human clinical trials of the procedure, as well as the ethical and legal issues involved in fetal-tissue research. The trials of Parkinson's patients and their involvement in the study are movingly told. While Freed's bias toward the use of fetal tissue is obvious, Parkinson's patients and others interested in the issue will find this an absorbing account. Janet M. Schneider, James A. Haley Veterans' Hosp., Tampa, FL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.