Denver, Colo. – Fetal cell transplants in patients with advanced Parkinson''s disease can survive and improve the symptoms of the disease for as long as eight years after the transplant, according to research presented during 54th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. The study involved 32 patients with advanced Parkinson''s. They received implants of fetal dopamine cells into the brain. The progressive loss of dopamine production in the brain triggers the symptoms of Parkinson''s.
The transplants duplicated the results that patients had been receiving from the drug levodopa, the main drug for Parkinson''s, prior to the transplant.
"The results were directly proportionate to the results people had with levodopa before the transplant," said study author Curt Freed, MD, of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. "At best, the transplants could improve symptoms equal to the best response to levodopa previously. And conversely, some people who had problems with jerky, involuntary movements as a side effect from levodopa continued to have those problems after the transplant."
Those problems, which had been reported earlier, were partially, but incompletely, treated with medication alone in two cases and with a combination of medication and an implant of an electrical brain stimulator in three cases, according to AAN President Stanley Fahn, MD, of Columbia University in New York, who is a study co-author.
"One of these people is an electrician who received a transplant about three years ago and who has been off levodopa for about two years," Freed said. "On September 11, 2001, he was working on the 34th floor of the first World Trade Center tower to be attacked. He walked down 33 flights, ran five blocks and walked three miles to a train station."
Patients who were followed for up to 5.5 years after transplant who had shown a good response to levodopa prior to the transplant also have shown a significant improvement after transplant regardless of age, Freed said.
"We had earlier reported that the transplants showed improvements for younger patients only," he said. "We have since determined that the improvements are related not to the individual''s age, but to how well the individual responded to levodopa before the transplant."
PET brain scans showed that after one year patients had an increase in dopamine activity in the area of the brain that received the implants. Over the next three years, the amount of activity stabilized or increased, Freed said.
The researchers also did autopsies on five patients who died up to eight years after the transplants. The autopsies showed that dopamine cells had survived in all of the patients.
The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Parkinson''s Disease Foundation and the Program to End Parkinson''s.
The American Academy of Neurology, an association of more than 19,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is dedicated to improving patient care through education and research. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, autism and multiple sclerosis.
For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit www.aan.com.
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Editor's Notes: Dr. Freed will present the research during a platform presentation on Wednesday, April 17, 2002, at 3:15 p.m. in Room A 207/9 at the Colorado Convention Center. He will be available to answer media questions during a briefing on Wednesday, April 17, 2002 at 11:00 a.m. in the AAN Press Room (Lobby C, Room 208) of the Convention Center.