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Science News

Report of a Study of Fetal Cell Transplantation for Severe Parkinsonís Disease

Many of you will already have read or heard about the new research report on fetal cell transplantation that appeared in the March 8th edition of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

The disappointing findings, aggravated by the negative tone of some of the news reports (including the article that appeared in The New York Times on March 8th) will be upsetting to many in our constituency. Dr. Rowland, President of the PDF Board of Directors, and I thought our Foundation could make a contribution by giving folks some more positive and complete context in which to read these disappointing findings. Hence, we have prepared the statement listed below.

Our fetal cell transplantation news release has also been distributed to the Parkinsonís Listserv at parkinsn@listserv.utoronto.ca.

Please call the Parkinsonís Disease Foundation at 1-800-457-6676 with any questions.

New York, March 8 Ė Newspapers today covered an important report on Parkinsonís research undertaken by scientists at the University of Colorado and Columbia University and published by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The subject was the first double-blind study to determine whether fetal cell transplants can be effective in restoring dopamine function and help patients. What they found was that the benefits were meager and the adverse effects, serious. These results are disappointing to the million or more Americans and their families who live with Parkinsonís disease. But the report needs to be seen in context.

First, while the study clearly shows that this technique is not ready for widespread adoption at this time, it does reveal some useful clues for future research Ė including the finding that dopamine-producing cells can take root, survive and function following a transplant. This finding is important to our overall understanding of the potential for regeneration of damaged dopamine-producing systems and has implications for future research.

Second, the most alarming finding Ė the inability of scientists to control the function of the implanted cells in such a way as to keep them from overproducing certain chemicals that trigger disturbing involuntary movements Ė itself presents a challenge to scientists to design new studies of stem cell biology. These studies should initially be conducted in animals, not in human beings.

Third, we must remind ourselves that the process of scientific inquiry is a investigative journey, not a sure destination. Successes are always more welcome than setbacks, such as this one, but even setbacks carry crucial lessons for future investigation.

Fourth, and this point is especially important for people with Parkinsonís, cell transplantation of this kind is only one of several promising avenues for new approaches to Parkinsonís therapy. Others include gene therapy, the study of environmental toxins, the investigation of genes associated with Parkinsonís, and the potential of pluripotent stem cells.

Finally, and most important, reports such as this one show how vital it is that we continue to explore and support research into the causes and cure of Parkinsonís, through basic science and through clinical studies. The path of any campaign is inevitably strewn with surprises, not all of them good. Our posture when a bump in the road is encountered must be to keep our eye on the goal: improving scientific understanding of the processes that lead to Parkinsonís and exploring therapies than have promise to arrest, relieve and perhaps even anticipate the disease. As Drs. Gerald Fischbach and Guy McKhann (respectively, the former Director and the current clinical director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke), wrote in an editorial that appeared in the same edition of the NEJM: ďThe brain is a most complex structure, so incremental results on the way to cures should are to be welcomed rather than dismissed as less than perfect.Ē

At the Parkinsonís Disease Foundation, in behalf of our community of people with Parkinsonís, this continuing commitment to research of the highest caliber will remain our beacon and our resolve.

Lewis P. Rowland, M.D., President

Source Date: Mar 09 2001