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Tissue from aborted fetus relieves symptoms in some Parkison's patients, study finds.

A small but well-controlled study using tissue from aborted fetuses to treat Parkinson's disease has shown that the transplants relieve symptoms in some patients.

The study involved only 40 patients, 20 of whom received the fetal tissue. The improvements, while significant, were dramatic in just 9 patients, all under age 60, reported principal investigators Curt Freed, MD of the University of Colorado in Denver and Stanley Fahn, MD of Columbia Presbyterian Center in New York. One year after surgery, these individuals continued to show functional improvement in the ability to walk, get up from a chair and other parameters of motor function. Older patients, who account for the majority of those with Parkinson's, were not helped overall. The reasons for this difference in efficacy are unclear, and the researchers said there is no way to predict who would benefit.

Despite the study's small size and its mixed results, experts said it offers a tantalizing hint that fetal tissue transplants may one day be able to repair damaged brains. In two-thirds of the subjects, the cells took hold and established new networks to produce dopamine, the neurochemical lacking in persons with Parkinson's. Postmortem analysis of a fetal cell transplant recipient killed in a traffic accident 3 years after surgery revealed about 100,000 embryonic dopamine cells in the brain that extended outward into surrounding tissue, according to the investigators.

"Ten or 15 years ago, people would have thought of this as science fiction," said Gerald Fischbach, MD, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorder and Stroke, the government agency that funded the $5.7 million, 4-year study. Given other promising developments in Parkinson's disease research, including electrical stimulation of the brain, Fischbach predicted that "within the next 10 years, there will be a much more rational and safe and effective means of reversing the dopamine deficit." Freed and Fahn announced their findings at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology in Toronto, Canada 11 years after then-President Ronald Reagan first banned government support for fetal tissue experimentation and 6 years after President Clinton lifted the ban. The announcement is certain to inflame a debate that has divided abortion-rights advocates and opponents for more than a decade--whether fetal tissue should be used in medical research and whether taxpayers should pay for it.
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Publication:Transplant News
Date:May 31, 1999
Previous Article:Artificial liver using human cells keeps Illinois woman alive until organ found for transplant.
Next Article:Parkinson's patients implanted with cells taken from their necks ok after 4 years, Japanese researchers report.

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