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Tumours found in rats given stem cells during Parkinson’s study

Thursday October 26, 2006

October 23, 2006 (CBC News) - A potential leap in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease has been tempered with a setback as rats injected with embryonic stem cells were essentially cured of Parkinson’s-like symptoms, but soon developed brain tumours.

When researchers at the University of Rochester transplanted human embryonic stem (HES) cells into the rats, "the implants yielded a significant, substantial and long-lasting restitution of motor function," according to a study published Monday in the online journal of Nature Medicine.

But after 10 weeks into the trial, the scientists discovered the tumours had begun to grow in every rat.

The findings are considered a blow to plans to use HES cells to grow tissues for human transplant.

Stem cells can be thought of as blank slates or cells that have yet to become specialized. They have the ability to become any type of cell to form skin, bones, organs or other body parts.

In particular, researchers have seen the potential for HES cell therapy in curing Parkinson’s because the disease requires only a single cell type that produces dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that carries signals between neurons (brain cells).

The brain cells containing dopamine become injured or die in a Parkinson’s patient, which often leads to the person being unable to control physical movements, or they suffer from tremors.

Canada and several other countries have approved strict laws that limit research on stem cells from human embryos.