Pig cell treatment for Parkinson's cleared for trial
A new treatment that injects cells from a pig's brain into the brains of people with Parkinson's disease is one step closer to being used.
New Zealand company Living Cell Technologies has been given clearance from the Ministry of Healthy to trial the treatment called NTCELL.
In a world first, the brain cells of a piglet bred in Southland could soon be transplanted into people suffering from the disease.
The neurodegenerative condition stems from a lack of a chemical in the brain, dopamine, which causes a loss of coordination and uncontrolled movements.
The principal investigator for the trial, Barry Snow, says the pig cells keep nerves healthy and stop tremors.
"What we anticipate these growth factors will do from the pig cells is help the dying back nerve cells from Parkinson's disease start to regrow again. In fact, we know these cells from the pigs work really well in animal models."
Living Cell Technologies has tested the transplant on rats and monkeys and says both species had fewer tremors and better control of their movements.
A professor at the company, Bob Elliot, says they plan to test the transplant on four people with severe Parkinson's. He says if successful, it will be a better option compared with deep brain stimulation used now which uses electric currents to probe the brain.
"The electrical treatment doesn't do anything about regenerating the damaged part of the brain, it just stirs the brain up in that sort of general area. Whereas this treatment is actually getting right at where the cause of the problem is and replacing those dead brain cells with new ones."
Parkinson's New Zealand chief executive Deidre O'Sullivan says their members are excited and fully supportive.
"People always talk about a cure, however, slowing down progression or preventing progression is almost as good as a cure. In terms of impact on quality of life of people living with Parkinson's, it will have a massive impact."
But Ms O'Sullivan says they will remain cautious, as with any new treatment.
The Anti-Vivisection Society, which opposes experiments on animals, says that caution is warranted. Director Phil Clayton says humans do not react to treatments in the same way as animals.
"Experiments on other species like that don't give predictive results of what would happen in humans - so if that's all that's been relied on, they should stop and think again and find some either better evidence or not do the trials."
The trial will have to be assessed and approved by a health ethics committee before it can go ahead.
Living Cell Technologies' chief executive Andrea Grant says a similar trial that involved transplanting cells from a pig's pancreas into people with Type 1 diabetes was approved in New Zealand in 2008. A fourth trial is about to be held in Argentina.
Ms Grant says they will do what it takes to ensure that this trial is approved also.
"We've taken this technology platform now into appoximately 35 patients around the world and there's been no issue with viral or microbiological transfer in any of those patients.
"So in terms of the safety aspects - which is what ethics is mainly concerned with - we're feeling that we've ticked all the boxes."
Ms Grant says the company hopes to have its application approved by the end of this year so it can begin in 2013.
If all goes to plan, the NTCELL treatment could be available to the public in 2016.
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