Cell therapy not just for Parkinson’s

Transplanted nerve cells have helped some patients with Parkinson’s disease control their tremors. Now, a small study suggests that such cells can survive in the brains of people who have suffered strokes and may alleviate some brain damage.

Douglas Kondziolka of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center led a team that transplanted nerve cells into damaged regions of the brains of 12 people who had had stroke-induced movement problems for the previous 6 months to 6 years.

This is the first time researchers have tried implanting nerve cells in the brains of stroke patients, says Kondziolka. No patient experienced complications from the surgery. In six patients, increased metabolic activity at the site of the implants suggests that the transplanted tissue may have integrated with existing tissue and begun functioning, he says.

Six months after treatment, four of those six patients and two others reported being able to move their wrists, arms, and legs more easily than at the beginning of the study. Three patients reported no change and three experienced slightly increased movement problems, the team reports in the Aug. 22 Neurology.

“The question of restoration of [brain] function is important to millions of people who have suffered strokes or other types of brain damage, such as trauma,” says Justin Zivin of the University of California, San Diego. Right now, there’s no way to reverse the brain damage of a stroke months or years after it occurs, he says.

“This is the first published report of a therapy that might offer benefit to these people,” Zivin says, “but it’s very early on in the process.” He cautioned that “considerable time and effort will be needed to establish whether cell transplantation is safe and effective for stroke therapy.”

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