PRAIRIE VOICES: Straight talk on stem cells

It took 10 years to find out how MPTP causes Parkinson's disease

By Dorreen Yellow Bird

Herald Staff Writer

Manuchair Ebadi, professor of pharmacology, physiology and therapeutics, UND School of Medicine, talks about stem cells and their importance to research, including his own work on Parkinson's disease. Ebadi and his wife, Paridokht Habibian Maherronaghsh Ebadi, live in Grand Forks, They have three children.
Stem cells are in the news. I know that you are working on stem cell research. Tell us a little about your work.

My research work is related to Parkinson's disease. We have been working on Parkinson's since 1972 in collaboration with some neurologists, especially Dr. Ron Pfeiffer. Basically, we are interested in the causes and treatment of the disease.

We know that in North Dakota, the incident of Parkinson's disease is high -- in part, because people live longer. Second, Parkinson's disease is high in agricultural states, and North Dakota is an agricultural state. Third, we have discovered that environmentally induced Parkinsonism, drug-induced Parkinsonism and idiopathic (or unknown origin) Parkinson's have identical causes, in that when the mitochondria is damaged, the level of ATP goes down, and the brain cannot repair the damage it suffers.

Q. What are mitochondria and ATP?

A. Think of the furnace in your house. If your furnace dies, your house does not get heat. Mitochondria are a source that generates energy for the cell, so when the mitochondria are damaged, the cells die.

We know that mitochondria synthesize a substance we call ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. Therefore neurotoxins, insecticides and herbicides causing Parkinsonism inhibit the synthesis of ATP by damaging the mitochondria.