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Doctors perform the first human brain cell transplant

Graphic July 1, 1998
Web posted at: 8:10 p.m. EDT (0010 GMT)

PITTSBURGH (CNN) -- Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh announced Wednesday they have performed the first transplant of human brain cells -- called neurons -- into a stroke victim.

If the test proves successful, the researchers hope the technique can be used to restore functions to people whose brains have been damaged by strokes.

The procedure was done on June 23rd on a 62-year-old stroke patient who is unable to move her right side and can barely speak.

The researchers said they hope the transplanted neurons will grow and replace the damaged neurons in the woman's brain that no longer function since the stroke. The researchers are not certain how long it will take before they see results, but they guess it will take two or three months, and perhaps longer.

First such procedure in humans

Although this is the first time this procedure has been done in humans, animal studies have shown promising results. It will be many years, however, before this procedure is widely available, and even now it is only being done experimentally in a handful of patients.

The neurons which were implanted are manufactured by Layton Bioscience. The firm's president and founder, Gary Snable, said the neurons come from a patient who had testicular cancer sometime in the late 70s. His cancer had spread to his lungs and formed a tumor that was growing a number of different types of tissue, including neurons.

Researchers have been growing and working with this unique tumor for many years. Neurons derived from the line of cells that come from this tumor appear to function as normal neurons or brain cells, and in the animal models those cells have never become cancerous again.

Progress, but much more study in human needed

Layton Bioscience hopes to use these neurons for many purposes. They are testing them first in stroke patients, but hope to use them for the treatment of Parkinson's disease, brain injury, and even spinal cord injury. Very early tests in animals show some promise for repairing spinal cord damage, but much more study needs to be done.

The research is similar in many ways to human fetal tissue research in Parkinson's disease, but there are some key differences. Finding enough fetal tissue to transplant is very difficult, controversial, and the transplants do not always last.

The neurons like those implanted in the stroke patient are embryonic in nature, but are already specialized into the exact type of cell used by the brain. In animal tests, this has allowed the neurons to hook up with other brain cells much more efficiently.

Test animals had artificially induced strokes that reduced motor function and memory. Treatments with the manufactured neurons greatly reversed those problems. The researchers said they hope to eventually be able to grow neurons derived from each patient and inject them back into the patient, but that research is still far from completion.

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