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Cell Implants Might Help Parkinson's Disease

Stem Cell Implant Recipients Show Modest Improvement in Movement
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WebMD Health News

June 21, 2004 -- Stem cell implant surgery is offering hope for some people with Parkinson's disease. In a study of this new experimental procedure, patients under age 60 regained some movement after having stem cells implanted.

The report appears in the current issue of Archives of Neurology.

"We should be very encouraged ... by the margins of improvement," writes Roger N. Rosenberg, MD, the journal's editor, in an accompanying editorial. While more work needs to be done, these findings "provide an important beginning" in developing highly specific, gene-based therapies in treating Parkinson's disease. "The golden age of neurology is just beginning!"

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disease of the brain -- one that has no known cause or cure, writes lead researcher Paul H. Gordon, MD, a neurologist with Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Parkinson's disease impairs and slows voluntary movement and contributes to disability.

With new imaging and improved surgical techniques, there has been renewed interest in surgically treating Parkinson's disease. Among them are attempts to slow the progression of Parkinson's -- and even reversing its course -- with implantation of stem cells, notes Gordon.

The study used stem cells that were coaxed to produced dopamine, the brain chemical that stimulates brain nerves. People with Parkinson's disease have a deficiency in this chemical, which leads to the slowed movements characteristic of this disease.

In the study, 20 patients with advanced Parkinson's disease were randomly chosen to either have surgery in which the stem cells were implanted in their brains or sham surgery in which nothing was implanted.

After one year, patients who got stem cell implantation surgery showed "significant and lasting" improvement in hand and foot movement compared with the deterioration seen in patients who received the sham procedure -- especially those patients under age 60, he writes.

Older patients who didn't have stem cell implantation surgery had significant deterioration during that same period, reports Gordon. That group was 60 years and older, and the deterioration may have been related to their age.

These findings support further stem cell research in treating Parkinson's disease, Gordon writes.

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