Pig brain cell transplant looks hopeful for treating Huntington's disease

According to researchers at Australian bioscience company Living Cell Technologies (LCT), if approved, pig brain cells wrapped in a seaweed derivative could be implanted into human brains by sometime next year to treat Huntington's disease.

LCT's New Zealand based research team have already had good results in tests in monkeys, and are seeking approval to do the same in humans trials in the U.S.

Approval has already been given by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration for trials with animal tissue for Parkinson's disease.

A spokeswoman for the UK's Huntington's Disease Association, has expressed concern that using animal cells in humans could spread infections from animals to humans, and said it would take many years to ascertain if approaches like these would be safe, and work in humans.

Huntington's Disease is an inherited condition, which affects one in 100,000 people, and is caused by a single faulty gene.

Although the condition is present from birth, symptoms usually appear when the person is between 30 and 50.

As cells start to die in an area of the brain which helps control the movement of the body's muscles, patients experience gradually worsening twitches, loss of muscle control, and memory loss and eventually die from the condition.

In an effort to minimise this damage in primates, the New Zealand team used pig brain cells taken from the lining of a brain structure known as the choroid plexus.

The role of these cells is a nurturing one, of mopping up toxins and secreting a range of chemicals that are reduced in Huntington's, and are essential for brain cell function.

In the past, with such work, overcoming the rejection of the implant, has been a problem, so the team wrapped the cells to be implanted in alginate, a derivative of seaweed, in order to protect them from the immune system.

They then put the implants into four of seven monkeys that were given a toxin to simulate the brain damage caused by Huntington's.

They found a month later, that the brain cell damage was five times less in the animals treated with live pig cell transplants than in the other primates, approximately 50% cell death versus 10%.

This work is as yet to be published, but similar work in using pig brain cell implants in rats, was published in NeuroReport last November.

Al Vasconcellos, head of the Biopharma subsidiary of Living Cell Technologies in Rhode Island, the U.S., which plans to carry out the human research, has said that the findings are so remarkable that he is confident that the FDA will fast-track approval of clinical trials for early next year, and he expects to see product approval in two years.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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