Injections of fetal brain tissue can help correct the chemical imbalance responsible for Parkinson's disease, new medical evidence has shown.
Doctors in Chicago, Tampa and New York say tests of a 59-year-old man who received the injections show the fetal cells thrived in the man's brain and successfully produced dopamaine, a chemical that in Parkinsons' patients slowly disappears, resulting in the tremor and rigidity that characterize the disease.The results, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, are the clearest demonstration to date that implanted cells can survive for up to 18 months and become intermingled with the natural tissues of the brain, Drs. Barry Hoffer and Craig van Horne of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center said in an editorial in the journal.
The implants seemed to spark improvements in the patient, enabling him to regain his independence and even to engage in an active exercise program three months after the treatment.
However, the new findings do not suggest that the use of fetal tissue will become a cure-all for Parkinson's disease.
Despite the improvements, the 59-year-old man still needed drugs to control his Parkinson symptoms. This is not surprising, said Hoffer and Van Horne, because no Parkinson patient who has had such fetal tissue implanted in the brain "has become free of medication, let alone free of symptoms."
As a result, they said, such treatments will continue to be considered experimental.
Eighteen months after the initial surgery, the patient died as a result of a massive blood clot in his lungs. The death, however, is not believed to be connected to the implant.