Brain cells from pigs being used in human brains to treat Parkinson’s

All bets are off for someone suffering from a serious disease and wanting nothing but to get healthy. Maybe that’s why some are courageous enough to try innovative treatments, like one group of people with Parkinson’s who were implanted with brain cells from pigs.

New Zealand company Living Cell Technologies has been trying to find various cures for diseases that affect the brain. Last month, the company was able to successfully complete surgeries among 18 patients in a placebo-controlled trial. Participants were implanted with choroid plexus cells coming from pigs. These cells were expected to produce compounds that would replenish the cells in the brain that were responsible for producing dopamine, a hormone that influences our movements.

It may seem a little morbid for some but this kind of treatment might pave the way for a successful treatment for this debilitating disease. This kind of treatment has been successful with rats who had the same symptoms of the disease, so there’s hope that the same results apply. “It’s putting in a little neurochemical factory to promote new nerve cell growth and repair,” said Ken Taylor of Living Cell Technologies.

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, about 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with the condition each year. There are more than 10 million people all over the world who are dealing with this disease. And while this comes with age, approximately four percent of patients were diagnosed before they hit 50. There are two surgical treatments available for those living with Parkinson’s: deep brain stimulation (DBS) and Duopa, a surgery that delivers a gel formulation through a tube in the small intestine.

For this innovative treatment, one capsule was implanted on the brain which contained about 1,000 pig cells. These cells were put inside a porous coating of alginate (made from seaweed) that allowed growth factors to move into the surrounding brain tissue. Scientists also made sure that the human body’s immune cells would not attack the pig cells. This was similar to treatments for people with diabetes who were given pig pancreas cells.

Results showed that the subjects displayed positive responses. These improvements were maintained for as long as 18 months. To have more concrete data, the researchers carried out a larger placebo-controlled trials where patients were implanted with up to 120 capsules on both side of the brains (patients in the initial test were only given 40 capsules on one side of the brain). The results are expected to come out later during the year. (Related: Tai Chi benefits people with chronic health problems like Parkinsons, arthritis and fibromyalgia.)

Similarly, researchers at the Universities of Manchester and York discovered an enzyme that could be used as a drug for Parkinson’s that’s cheaper and easier to manufacture. In a paper published in Nature Chemistry, the scientists revealed that the enzyme Aspergillus oryzae, a fungus used for making soy sauce, could increase the substance in the brain that affects motor function.

These innovative treatments sound promising, but what about the risks? One possibility is that dormant DNA in pig cells could cross over to the human cells and cause a new disease. It hasn’t happened so far in the case of earlier test subjects, however. Perhaps for those afflicted with the condition, the possibility of a cure far outweighs the risks.

Sources include:

comments powered by Disqus