Brain cells from pigs might help treat Parkinson’s patients

Pig brain cells could be the key to treating people with Parkinson’s disease, according to early trials of a promising new treatment that implants the cells into a patient’s brain.

Living Cell Technologies, the company that developed the technique, reports that four patients in New Zealand have shown significant improvement after undergoing the procedure 18 months ago. The procedure has already proven successful in rats.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disease that slowly kills the brain cells that make dopamine, which helps control movement. Patients can take medicine to replace the dopamine but there’s currently no cure or treatment to slow the disease’s progression. More than 10 million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s.
The new treatment takes cells from a pig’s choroid plexus and places them into tiny capsules which are then inserted into the patient’s brain. This region of the pig’s brain hosts a mixture of chemicals that researchers hope will slow the onset of Parkinson’s by keeping a human’s dopamine-producing cells alive and well. The capsules are created out of an ingredient from seaweed that stops the brain’s immune cells from attacking the pig cells.

The four patients each received 40 capsules in one side of their brain.

“It’s putting in a little neurochemical factory to promote new cell growth and repair,” Ken Taylor, who helped create the treatment, told The New Scientist.

In May, 18 additional patients received 120 pig cell capsules in a second, placebo-controlled trial. The trial’s results are expected to be released in November.

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