Back in the late 1980’s and throughout the 1990’s scientists from Sweden’s Lund University experimented with ways to transplant new dopamine producing nerve cells into the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. Following the transplant some patients exhibited significant improvements in their symptoms, while others found only moderate relief of their symptoms or none at all. Now, twenty four years on, it’s been shown that these transplanted cells are still alive and functioning.
When the transplants were first carried out, the researchers speculated on the survival rate of the transplanted cells and their neural connections. They were also interested in how they would continue to function as the disease progressed in the patient’s brain. Now they have their answer, as their recent research has shown that not only can they survive for decades, but that they have the ability to restore the normal production of dopamine in the part of the brain where the new cells were transplanted.
Patient Enjoys Improved Condition After Nerve Cells Transplant
One of the lead researchers, Professor Olle Lindvall, confirmed their findings, saying that “transplanted nerve cells can stay alive and function for many years in the diseased human brain”. However, despite the fact that the transplanted cells have survived, the researchers noted that the positive effects of the transplant disappeared over time as the disease spread throughout the brain.
The team’s findings are based on following a patient with Parkinson’s for 24 years before his death. The patient had received a transplant of dopamine-producing nerve cells, and showed such an improvement in his condition that he no longer required medication with L-dopa after the procedure. During the transplantation, nerve cells were only transplanted to one brain hemisphere meaning that the researchers could compare how it functioned against the hemisphere that did not receive a transplant. By using brain-imaging technology, it was seen that the dopamine function was still completely normal ten years after transplantation. Now twenty four years later they can see that the original transplanted cells and their associated neural connections are still there.
The research has been published in a recent edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).