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Pig cell to human brain transplant approved

29 Jan, 2013

Living Cell Technologies has been granted permission by Minister of Health Tony Ryall for phase I clinical trials involving transplanting specially coated pig cells into the human brain to treat Parkinson’s disease.

Living Cell Technologies (LCT) is the biotech company that developed the technology for cell transplantation without the need for immunosuppressant drugs.

Prevalence of Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease and affects 4–6 million people worldwide, including around 10 000 New Zealanders.

In Parkinson’s, reduced dopamine levels in the brain lead to movement-related symptoms such as tremors, rigidity and slowness of movement. As the disease progresses, cognitive and behavioural symptoms are often observed.

Following ethical approval, the company plans to begin the trials as early as the first quarter of 2013. The clinical trial, a phase I open label investigation of the safety and clinical effect of their modified pig cell product NTCELL, will last up to 60 weeks and involve patients that have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s for at least 4 years.

Transplanting choroid plexus cells

The treatment involves transplanting choroid plexus cells from the Auckland Island pig herd into the patient’s brain via a catheter. Choroid plexus cells are naturally occurring ‘support’ cells for the brain and, when transplanted, can help protect the brain and repair damaged nerve tissue. The pig cells are encapsulated in a protective gel made from a seaweed extract, which prevents the animal cells from being attacked by the patient’s immune system and alleviates the need for immunosuppressive drugs.

Trial patients will receive either NTCELL treatment or the currently used best treatment for their symptoms – deep brain stimulation.

Increase in dopamine-producing neurons

In a press release from LCT, principal investigator for the trials Dr Barry Snow said the disease is a disorder that clinicians can help manage but currently can’t reverse, so this represents an exciting new potential option for patients. “These clinical trials will also help raise public awareness of the disorder, which, in turn, helps improve the way the disorder is looked after generally.”

Preclinical studies using rats and monkeys showed an increase in dopamine-producing neurons, improvements in movement and neurological defects, together with good tolerance with no evidence of inflammation or other adverse reaction. The improvements were seen within 2 weeks and lasted for at least 6 months, the trial endpoint.

Dr Andrea Grant, Chief Executive of LCT says, “The unprecedented results of our preclinical studies suggest that NTCELL can protect brain tissue, which would otherwise die, potentially delaying or even preventing the effects of Parkinson’s.”

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