Fetal tissue brain transplants said to survive

April 27, 1995|By Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Researchers from Chicago, New York and Florida report the first proof that fetal tissue transplants survived, grew and functioned in the brain of a Parkinson's patient, a milestone that eventually may lead to new therapies for Huntington's, Alzheimer's, strokes and other disorders.

The transplant was linked to a significant improvement in the patient's condition, freeing him from the prison of rigidity and immobility, the main symptoms of the disease, and enabling him to enroll in an exercise class. The transplanted tissue was studied in his brain after he died from an unrelated cause.

"For the past 15 years we've been trying to get to this point, to understand whether fetal transplants can work and how they work," Dr. Jeffrey Kordower, director of the Research Center for Brain Repair at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, said yesterday. Dr. Kordower performed the brain autopsy.

"The grafts survived and they replaced the lost circuitry that is destroyed by the disease," said Dr. Kordower, lead author of the report appearing in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Based on the findings, researchers at Rush and the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York are planning similar transplants for patients with Huntington's disease, a genetic disorder that destroys specific brain cells and leads to a loss of mental function and death.

To verify the promising results being reported in the medical journal, the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke has launched a two-year fetal tissue transplant study that will involve 36 Parkinson's disease patients.

One hurdle researchers must overcome is the reliance on fetal tissue. For ethical reasons, many people object to the use of tissue from aborted fetuses, and since a single transplant may involve tissue from many fetuses, the potential demand for tissue would far outstrip the supply.

Despite growing evidence that many of these patients get better, and brain images made with a scanning technique that show improved function in the transplant area, until the results reported today scientists had lacked direct proof that the transplanted tissue was still alive, let alone working.

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