Doctors report they have had long-term success implanting cells into the brains of Parkinson's disease patients by passing a needle through the skull. Dr. Ray Watts, professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, told that patients had improved motor function - movement of their arms and legs - by up to 60% using this procedure.
Watts implanted retinal pigment epithelial cells, which are grown by the millions after being removed from human donor retinas. These particular cells produce dopamine, normally manufactured by neurons in the brain. Levels of dopamine steadily decrease as Parkinson's progresses. This is the first human intracerebral retinal cell implantation study in the world and we are encouraged by the results so far.
In the implantation procedure, doctors use brain imaging to select specific sites to deposit the cells. Then they pass needles through the forehead and top of the skull to implant the cells.
Patients showed improvement in tremor, stiffness, slow movement and balance, the most common motor functions affected by Parkinson's disease. In addition, half of the participants showed improvement of dyskinesia - involuntary movements that are a result of medications.