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Rock star goes abroad for Alzheimer's stem cell treatment

December 31, 2015
by Nicole Stempak, Associate Editor
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John Mann, Canadian actor and frontman for the folk rock band Spirit of the West, will go abroad for stem cell therapy for early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Mann, 53, announced the Alzheimer's diagnosis last fall while in remission for colorectal cancer. Mann's partner, Jill Daum, told the Canadian Broadcast Channel he needed the help of an iPad to sing his songs. His symptoms have progressed to where he can no longer play his guitar or hold a conversation.

Mann has taken medication for two years, but they haven't been effective. There are four drugs approved in Canada to help manage Alzheimer's disease symptoms, and the latest new drug was approved in 2005, says Larry Chambers, PhD, scientific adviser for the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

Daum says she's "very skeptical" about trying stem cell therapy, but Mann insisted on it. "John had to try it just because…it's pretty hard not to, if it could help," she says. "We just think, wow, wouldn't it be great if John could play the guitar," Daum says.

Mann is expected to start treatment in January at a clinic in Mexico. Stem cell treatment for Alzheimer's has yet to be approved in Canada or the United States.

Some researchers caution against stem cell treatment because there isn't sufficient clinical trial evidence to prove effectiveness—or even proof of safety. Private clinics aren't subject to governmental approval process, and clinicians don't publish their findings. That could slow down scientific advances, and adverse outcomes at private clinics could put research funding levels at risk.

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