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Parkinson's Gene Therapy Seems to Work

Patient: 'If You Didn't Know I Had Parkinson's Disease, You Couldn't Tell'

Does It Really Work?

These very encouraging results don't prove anything, During notes. That will depend on a large clinical trial in which participants aren't aware of what treatments they receive and some participants receive no active treatment (placebo). A trial like this is in the planning stages.

Until then, it's just another promising treatment, says Parkinson's researcher Curt R. Freed, MD, head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Colorado Health Science Center.

"It is promising at this stage, but like everything else, the proof will be in the pudding," Freed tells WebMD. "Everything will depend on their clinical trial."

Freed should know. Twenty years ago, he and others started getting intriguing results when they implanted fetal brain cells into the brains of people with Parkinson's diseaseParkinson's disease. These transplanted cells are intended to replace the dopamine-producing cells that die off in Parkinson's disease.

Only about 3% of those transplanted cells survive. But those that survive, Freed reported at the Neuroscience conference, take root and grow -- and keep on growing. If at least 40,000 of the cells survive, it means patients no longer have to take L-dopa, the most important Parkinson's treatment.

The new treatment won't be practical until Freed and colleagues can develop a cell line that will produce a large quantity of fetal brain cells in the laboratory. That, he says, is just a matter of time.

"My interest is getting beyond the use of fetal tissue and using tissues manufactured in the lab," Freed says. "We could have this in patients in the next two to five years."

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