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Fetal Cell Transplantation Shows Promise for Parkinson's

Researchers from Harvard Stem Cell Institute have found that transplanted cells can properly function for up to 14 years. This was demonstrated for fetal dopamine cells that were transplanted into the Parkinson’s patients’ brains. The finding published in the journal Cell Reports, can pave the way for new and more effective therapies for the disease, in particular.

The scientists studied the brains of five patients after their death. All the people received fetal cell transplants to treat Parkinson’s over the past 14 years. At the time of the study, their dopamine transporters responsible for pumping dopamine, the neurotransmitter, and mitochondria, the cellular power plants, produced from transplanted cells, were healthy and properly functioning, while patients own dopamine transporters and mitochondria were malfunctioning. It is important to note, that all the patients died because of causes other than Parkinson’s.

Moreover, to date, 25 people worldwide have been transplanted fetal dopamine cells over the past 2 decades using the same method as in the five patients studied, and their Parkinson’s symptoms have significantly improved. This proves the success of such transplantations, despite some researchers suspecting the transplants to be destroyed or mal-functioning with time because of toxic proteins released in the body as the disease progresses.

Fetal cell transplants may need months or years to start functioning, but they reduce Parkinson’s symptoms and the need for dopamine replacement medications. They become even more promising if taken into consideration that in each case they were made at the late stages of the disease.

As producing dopamine nerve cells from fetal tissue is a difficult task, the researchers may look for easier ways of preparing transplants, for example, growing them in the laboratory from stem cells. In any case, the study has proved this is worth trying.