Pig Brains and Parkinson's Patients Paired to Develop Cure
WebMD News Archive
March 13, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Pig brain cells can grow safely in humans, a new
study in the March 14 issue of the journal Neurology shows. What's more,
they can dramatically help patients with advanced Parkinson's disease -- and
might one day be used to treat stroke patients or people suffering from chronic
The report describes preliminary experiments designed to prove that the
pig-brain transplants are safe. They used smaller numbers of cells than are
used in more advanced experiments with human embryo cells, and transplanted
them into only one half of the brain of Parkinson's patients. Nevertheless,
three of the 10 patients who completed the study showed a dramatic improvement
a year after getting the transplants. This suggests that the transplants
survived and actually produced dopamine, a crucial substance necessary for
normal movement that is no longer produced in the brains of patients with
"One of the three best responders was a man who went from not being able
to walk most days to walking without a cane," study author Samuel A.
Ellias, MD, PhD, tells WebMD. "It has made a dramatic difference to
him." Ellias is the director of the Boston University laboratory for study
of motor control and tremor.
None of the patients had side effects from the pig cell transplant, although
some of the patients showed no improvement. Perhaps most importantly,
sophisticated tests found no evidence of infection spread from pig to people --
a major concern among researchers.
The study also showed that a new way to prevent the body's rejection of the
foreign cells could work without the use of dangerous drugs that suppress the
immune system. The new technique coats the transplanted cells with a substance
that apparently prevents the immune system from rejecting the cells. Patients
who received these newly treated cells did as well as those treated with a drug
that suppresses the immune system. "That is the exciting thing: If you
could use this technique without [suppressing the immune system,] it would be
[very] useful," says Ellias. The technique is also being used in other
research using pig tissues.