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Fetal cell transplants slow Huntington's disease

27 February 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 347

The latest results from a trial in which five Huntington's disease (HD) patients received fetal nerve tissue transplants show that the treatment can slow, but not stop the progression of the condition. The study, carried out at the Henri Mondor Hospital in France, shows that for some patients, cell transplants could provide a few years of improvement. But the effect is temporary, say the team, who published their results in the journal Lancet Neurology.

HD is a genetic condition that causes progressive damage in certain areas of the brain, leading to gradual physical, emotional and mental changes. Symptoms of HD usually appear between the ages of 30 and 50 years, and people with the disease have a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to each of their children. Although currently incurable, scientists think HD could potentially be treated with injections of healthy cells, since it is limited to specific brain areas.

In 2000, the French team reported that three of five HD patients who had received grafts of fetal nerve cells showed an improvement two years after the treatment. However, the latest follow-up study of these individuals show that these improvements 'plateaued' after two years, and the patients began to decline again over the next 2-4 years. The researchers say the study show the treatment is 'not a permanent cure' for HD, but offers a period of remission.

One patient was still working part-time six years after the treatment, and all three regained skills they had lost before the surgery - including cycling and being able to carry out household chores. However, other skills, such as guitar playing, were lost again by five years after the treatment. A spokeswoman for the UK Huntington's Disease Association said: 'we welcome any advance if people can be helped', but cautioned 'this is major brain surgery and there are risks'.

Six to eight fetuses are required to provide enough brain cells for each operation, which are obtained from consenting women undergoing abortions. A similar approach using laboratory-grown stem cells could one day be used to treat HD, as well as other degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson's disease.

Brain cell transplant slows advance of fatal disease
The Independent |  27 February 2006
Fetal Tissue Grafts Slow Progression of Huntington's Disease
Medpage Today |  27 February 2006
Transplant hope for Huntington's sufferers
The Times |  27 February 2006
2 August 2009 - by Rosie Beauchamp 
A paper published in the 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences' has outlined disappointing conclusions surrounding the use of brain tissue transplants to treat Huntington's disease. Thomas Freedman and colleagues at the University of South Florida in Tampa, US, report that transplanting portions of fetal brain tissue is not as successful as was previously believed....
10 March 2006 - by BioNews 
US researchers are set to test a fetal nerve stem cell treatment for Batten disease, a rare and currently incurable genetic brain disorder. Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) says the trial aims to test the safety of the approach, since transplants of purified nerve stem cells have never been...
10 January 2005 - by BioNews 
A Japanese team of researchers has used embryonic stem cells to successfully repair the brain damage caused by Parkinson's disease in monkeys. The team, based at Kyoto University, used monkey embryo stem cells to produce nerve cells, which they transplanted into the brains of monkeys affected by a primate model...
28 October 2004 - by BioNews 
Two new studies show that cell transplants could be used to treat people with vision problems. US scientists have managed to restore the sight of a woman affected by retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disease. However, the research has sparked controversy, since the team used a sheet of retinal cells...
19 March 2001 - by BioNews 
The first full trial of a new technique to treat Parkinson's disease using transplanted fetal brain cells has produced disappointing results, with serious side effects occurring in some patients. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Parkinson's disease is caused by a gradual loss of dopamine-producing...
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