Transplanted cells to help patients with Parkinson's disease can survive in the brain for over one and half decades. However, some of the transplanted cells developed Parkinson-like features which is very surprising. These are the main findings of a study on grafting of new neurons to the brain in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The study, headed by a team of researchers from Lund University in collaboration with London scientists, has been published in a recent issue of Nature Medicine.
'Previous studies have shown that transplanted dopamine cells can clearly improve speed of movement, reduce rigidity and the need for medication for at least a decade', says Jia-Yi Li, Associate Professor of Neurobiology, Neuronal Survival Unit at Lund University. 'We now see that they also are alive in large numbers, which is very exciting.'
However, in addition to the long-term survival of transplanted neurons, the scientists also found that Parkinson’s disease changes may appear inside a graft. This suggests that the disease mechanism is able to transfer gradually from a sick to a healthy cell in the brain.
'Our results suggest that key features of Parkinson's disease pathology slowly transfer from the patient’s brains to the healthy nerve cells in the transplant', says Patrik Brundin, Professor of Neuroscience and Head of the Neuronal Survival Unit at Lund University.
'We still do not know the precise cellular mechanisms, but the findings open up new exciting lines of research. If we can crack the mechanism, we may be able to devise treatments that prevent or slow disease progression in the future.'
The research group at Lund University and Lund University Hospital has earlier shown that the transplanted cells are functional for a decade. The new findings, that extend the survival time even further, mean that cell therapy is still a viable possibility.
'Although we have now found that the grafted cells may be affected by the disease, the pathological changes appear late. In my view transplantation of dopamine cells, probably generated from stem cells, therefore remains a promising and important novel strategy for the treatment of patients with Parkinson’s disease', says Olle Lindvall, Professor of Neurology at Lund University Hospital.
Journal reference: Lewy bodies in grafted neurons in subjects with Parkinson's disease suggest host-to-graft disease propagation, Nature Medicine. Published online: 6 April 2008 | doi:10.1038/nm1746
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