Freed, Curt R(ichard) 1943-
FREED, Curt R(ichard) 1943-
PERSONAL: Born January 14, 1943, in Seattle, WA; wife's name, Nancy. Education: Harvard University. B.A., 1965, M.D., 1969.
ADDRESSES: Office—University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 4200 East Ninth Ave., Campus Box C-237, Denver, CO 80262. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Physician, educator, and pioneer in fetal tissue transplantation. Los Angeles County Harbor General Hospital, Torrence, CA, began as intern, became resident, 1969-71; Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, resident, 1971-72; University of California, San Francisco, research fellow in clinical pharmacology, 1972-75; University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 1975—, began as assistant professor, became professor of medicine and pharmacology, 1987, became head of Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, 1993, became director of Neural Transplantation Program for Parkinson's Disease, 1988, and Parkinson's Center without Walls, 1997.
MEMBER: International Society for the Development of Neuroscience, Association of American Physicians, American Society of Clinical Investigation, American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, American Society of Neural Transplantation, International Peptide Society, Western Association of Physicians, American Federation for Clinical Research, Society for Neuroscience, Sigma Xi.
AWARDS, HONORS: Faculty development award, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, 1976-79; National Institutes of Health grant, 1978.
SIDELIGHTS: Curt R. Freed is a pioneer in the development of neurotransplantation as a treatment for Parkinson's disease. In 1988, with colleague Robert Breeze, he transplanted human fetal dopamine cells into a Parkinson's patient, the first time such a transplantation was performed in the United States.
Parkinson's disease afflicts more than one million Americans, most of them over fifty. It causes muscular rigidity, severe trembling, and in approximately one third of cases, the thought process is impaired. Although the cause is unknown, the symptoms are observed with the death of brain cells that produce the hormone dopamine, a neural transmitter. The disease has been treated with some success with the drug L-Dopa, which replaces the missing dopamine, but the scientific community concluded that transplants would bring greater success. The first were taken from adrenal tissue from the patients' own glands, but the most effective transplants result from using fetal brain cells, which are young and growing.
The timing of Freed's 1988 procedure was controversial. Several months earlier, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had imposed a moratorium on all federally sponsored research involving fetal tissue so that a panel could consider the ethical issues of using the material that was retrieved following voluntary abortion. Freed's implantation, which was privately funded, was legal, however. His critics included competing researchers, but even professionals who defended his right to proceed felt he should have waited for the recommendations of the panel.
Freed had been successful with monkeys and felt that the timing for his first human transplant was imminent. He had a one-month window within which the entire medical team would be free to operate on the fiftytwo-year-old patient whose progress they had followed for five months in order to get a baseline. An operating room was available, and an abortion clinic would be able to provide the brain stem cells. Freed inspected tissue over a period of three weeks before finding acceptable transplant material.
After obtaining the appropriate permissions from the University of Colorado and rechecking the legality of a privately funded procedure with the NIH, Freed and Breeze proceeded. Freed told Thomas H. Maugh II of the Los Angeles Times, "I don't think science can wait, or should have to wait, because of an outstanding political question. When the government restricts scientific research, even though it doesn't prohibit it, that casts a pall over the entire research community. … The minute we finished the operation, I knew we had done the right thing."
Freed collaborated with Simon LeVay (The Sexual Brain) in writing his account of his work, titled Healing the Brain: A Doctor's Controversial Quest for aCell Therapy to Cure Parkinson's Disease. He provides a history of the research, and the biology of Parkinson's disease, and comments on the political roadblocks he encountered, but most of the book is dedicated to Freed's own work and findings.
A Publishers Weekly contributor called the book "a lucid and engrossing medical detective story that will especially interest those whose lives have been affected by the disease."
In 1995, after the Clinton administration approved stem cell research, Freed began a series of experiments in which forty patients participated in doubleblind studies. Half received transplanted fetal cells, and the control group underwent mock surgeries that were so realistic that the anesthesiologists didn't know the difference. The subjects in the control group were later given the opportunity to have the actual surgery, if they so chose.
Freed and his team have performed dozens of transplants since 1988, and his work on Parkinson's disease has been applied to the treatment of other neurological disorders, including Huntington's disease. They have discovered that a Huntington's gene can cause diabetes and are investigating the biochemical events that lead to the reduction of islet cell insulin production. In addition, Freed notes on his home page that he and his team "are exploring ways to guide progenitor cells to differentiate into dopamine cells as an alternative to the use of fetal brain cells. We plan to continue this spectrum of research in rodents, monkeys, and humans with the goal of developing a transplant cure for Parkinson's disease."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 15, 2002, William Beatty, review of Healing the Brain: A Doctor's Controversial Quest for a Cell Therapy to Cure Parkinson's Disease, p. 1563.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2002, review of Healing the Brain, p. 380.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Janet M. Schneider, review of Healing the Brain, p. 128.
Los Angeles Times, November 21, 1988, Thomas H. Maugh II, "Doctor Who Broke Restriction on Fetal Tests under Attack," p. 3; February 1, 2001, Marlene Cimons, "Fetal Cell Implants Improve Parkinson's Patients, Doctors Say," p. A16.
New York Times, April 22, 1999, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Hints of Success in Fetal Cell Transplants," p. A23.
Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2002, review of Healing the Brain, p. 83.
University of Colorado Health Science Center Web site,http://www2.uchsc.edu/ (January 2, 2003), "Curt R. Freed."*