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Episode 17: Stem Cells and Parkinson’s

Stem cells – those cells that can give rise to so many cell types in the body – have been touted as the cure-all for a variety of diseases, including Parkinson’s. But to date, attempts at stem cell transplantation into the brain have fallen short. Parkinson’s is one of the most complex diseases, with a variety of motor and non-motor symptoms and an impact on many systems of the body. Just inducing a cell to make dopamine is not the whole answer. But stem cells are still useful for drug screening and disease modeling. Dr. Michael Okun, National Medical Director of the Parkinson’s Foundation, Chairman of the University of Florida Department of Neurology and Co-Director of the University of Florida Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence, puts the field into perspective and where it’s going.

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About This Episode

Released: December 5, 2017

Stem cells are the cells within all of us that have the exciting potential to develop into many different cell types in the body – including neurons. This process happens during early life and growth, but scientists can also induce adult stem cells to become specific organ or tissue cells with special functions.

Michael Okun, MD

Dr. Okun is Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Florida, as well as Co-Director of the UF Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration. Dr. Okun has long been dedicated to the interdisciplinary care concept, and since his appointment as the National Medical Director for the National Parkinson Foundation in 2006, he has worked with the 43 international Parkinson’s Foundation Centers of Excellence to help foster the best possible environments for care, research, and outreach in Parkinson disease, dystonia, Tourette, and movement disorders.

In addition to his role as National Medical Director for the Parkinson’s Foundation, he is the Medical Advisor for Tyler’s Hope for a Dystonia Cure and Co-Medical Director for the Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA).

Dr. Okun has enjoyed a prolific research career exploring non-motor basal ganglia brain features, and he has participated in pioneering studies exploring the cognitive, behavioral, and mood effects of deep brain stimulation (DBS). Dr. Okun holds the Adelaide Lackner Associate Professorship in Neurology, has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles, is a published poet (Lessons From the Bedside, 1995), and has served as a reviewer for more than 25 major medical journals. He has been invited to speak about Parkinson’s and movement disorders all over the world.

Dr. Okun earned his BA in history from Florida State University and his MD from the University of Florida, with honors. He completed an internship and neurology residency at UF. Following residency, he was trained at Emory University.

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