Stem cells survive brain transplant

05 June 2014
Posted by Chris Smith.

Foetal cells transplanted into the brain to treat Parkinson's disease survive and human Embryonic Stem Cellsfunction for decades, new research has revealed.

Parkinson's Disease affects more than 6 million people worldwide and is currently incurable. It occurs when nerve cells that make the chemical dopamine are lost from the brain leading to difficulty making movements and a tremor.

There are some drugs that can increase the levels of dopamine again, but this is only a temporary fix and there are side effects. Instead, about 20 years ago, doctors took the radical step of trying to treat the disease by replacing the missing nerve cells.

At the time, the only source of those cells was aborted human foetal tissue, which was injected into the relevant parts of the brain of a small number of Parkinson's sufferers.

The patients did show improvements in their symptoms, but no one could say for sure whether the transplanted tissue was responsible.

Now, writing in Cell Reports, Harvard's Ole Isacson, one of the pioneers of that research, has studied brain samples from some of the patients, who have since died of natural causes, to find out whether the tissue they put in was still healthy more than a decade later.

In the five brains he studied, the implanted foetal nerve tissue was still present and appeared to be healthy.

"This proves that if we can use the new stem cell techniques that have now been invented, that are capable of reprogramming a patient's skin cells into nerve stem cells resembling the foetal tissue we used, we will have a promising new avenue for the treatment of the disease. The patients who had these grafts, in many cases, now need no medication. It's remarkable."

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