Parkinson’s fetal tissue transplant experiment fails – Nature

Parkinson’s fetal tissue transplant experiment fails – Nature

Fri, 29 Aug 2003

The journal Nature reports about yet another Parkinson’s fetal tissue transplant experiment (at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in NY) that has failed to show any benefit for the patients. Indeed, in the latest such experiment 50% of the patients suffered “jerky involuntary movements,” or dyskinesias, as a side effect. An earlier experiment at the U of Colorado also found stem cell transplantation to be of no benefit for patients.

Leaving aside the debate about whether it is ethical to use aborted fetus tissue in medical research, experiments such as these–proceed without sufficient proof of their likely benefit. “the trials raise a number of questions that must be answered by lab work before further clinical trials are done.”

This demonstrates that scientists often pretend to proceed with human experiments on the basis of scientific evidence when, if fact, they are deluding themselves, their patients and families, and the public with unsubstantiated “promising” claims.

Similar negative results occurred in experimental “diabetes prevention” strategies using children as human subjects. See: Couzin J. 2003, June 20. “Brave new world.” SCEINCE, vol 300: 1162-1165.

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http://www.nature.com/nsu/030825/030825-4.html

Parkinson’s transplant therapy faces setback
Fetal tissue trial raises stem cell questions.
28 August 2003
ERIKA CHECK

This story is from the News section of the journal Nature

Parkinson’s disease destroys dopamine-producing brain cells. © GettyImages

An experimental technique that uses transplanted fetal tissue to treat Parkinson’s disease is not yet ready for widespread use, according to a study published online last week.

In the study, surgeons transplanted nerve tissue from aborted fetuses into the brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease. The disease destroys neurons that produce the chemical dopamine, which is required for normal brain function. The transplanted tissue is intended to replace these damaged cells.

But the average condition of the 23 patients who received the treatment did not improve significantly compared with a group of 11 who did not have it. The researchers, led by Warren Olanow of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, measured whether the treatment affected the symptoms of the disease, such as muscle tremors, speech and mental abilities1.

An earlier trial, led by Curt Freed of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, also found that patients did not benefit as a group from fetal tissue transplants2. And both trials found that the procedure caused some patients to suffer jerky involuntary movements, or dyskinesias, as a side effect. More than half of the patients in the latest trial had dyskinesias, compared with 15% of those in the earlier trial.

The results may have implications for other research using aborted fetal tissue — and, perhaps, for future therapies that might use laboratory-grown stem cells to replace defective tissue. Some researchers fear that the negative results will reduce support for the politically controversial stem-cell therapies.

Researchers say that previous trials of fetal cell transplants for Parkinson’s disease have been encouraging, as they have worked in some patients. But they feel that they cannot proceed with the technique until they work out how to prevent dyskinesias. “Unless we resolve this, it will have a tremendous negative impact on this and other issues in stem-cell research,” Olanow says.

After Freed’s study, scientists thought that the dyskinesias were caused by overactive neurons. But Olanow found hints that the opposite is true — poorly functioning transplants could be the cause. Olanow and others say that it is crucial to define what makes the transplants function well. Work with neurons grown from stem cells could offer clues, they add, because such lab-derived cells would contain fewer impurities than fetal tissue.

Unless we resolve this, it will have a tremendous negative impact on stem-cell research Warren Olanow Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Another question raised by the latest trial is whether the transplants are being inactivated by the immune system. Olanow’s team found some evidence to suggest that an immunological reaction is destroying or disabling the tissue grafts. Such evidence had not been found in previous trials.

Neurologist Olle Lindvall of the University of Lund in Sweden, who is leading a 15-year study of fetal transplants for Parkinson’s disease, remains strongly supportive of the transplant idea. But he agrees that the trials raise a number of questions that must be answered by lab work before further clinical trials are done.

“Everyone agrees that we don’t yet have a method that would make fetal cell transplants competitive as a clinical treatment,” he says.

Erica Check is Washington Biological Sciences correspondent for the journal Nature

References
Olanow, C. W. et al. Annals of Neurology, published online,
doi:10.1002/ana.10720 (2003).|Article|
Freed, C. R. et al. Transplantation of Embryonic Dopamine Neurons for Severe
Parkinson’s Disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 344, 710 – 719
(2001).|Article|

© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003

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