Magazine article Science News

Pig Cells Used for Parkinson's Disease

Magazine article Science News

Pig Cells Used for Parkinson's Disease

Article excerpt

Mired in political and ethical controversy, fetal cell research has inched forward during the last decade. In a provocative study that may eliminate such controversy and avoid problems of supply, researchers have taken the first steps toward routinely using fetal cells from pigs, not humans.

Mounting evidence indicates that human fetal cells transplanted into the brain can replace the nerve cells ravaged by neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's disease (SN: 4/29/95, p.262). Yet investigators must struggle to obtain enough human fetal tissue to pursue their studies.

Much of the tissue derived from miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies is unsuitable (SN: 1/7/95, p.6). And even if obtaining fetal cells from induced abortions weren't an explosive issue, researchers doubt that this option can provide enough tissue to meet the demands of all potential patients.

Treating one Parkinson's patient, for example, requires tissue from five or more intact fetuses. "Getting the number of cells needed to treat the disease is very difficult," says neurosurgeon James M. Schumacher of the Lahey Hitchcock Clinic in Burlington, Mass.

"There is a real need to identify an alternative cell source," adds Jonathan H. Dinsmore, director of cell transplantation at Diacrin, a Boston biotech firm.

Both Dinsmore and Schumacher belong to a team that in April began transplanting cells from pig fetuses into the brains of Parkinson's patients. This is the first such experiment approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It's a bold move," says Paul R. Sanberg of the University of South Florida in Tampa, president of the American Society for Neural Transplantation.

In Boston last week, at a meeting focused on xenotransplantation--the transplanting of tissue across species--Dinsmore announced that the three patients treated so far have apparently not rejected the fetal pig cells. …

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