Patients with Parkinson's disease may be able to stop or even slightly improve the progression of the disease if they undergo a surgical procedure to implant embryonic cells into their brains, say researchers. The cells work by producing dopamine, a neurochemical that helps control movement. People with Parkinson's don't produce enough dopamine, which leads to the movement problems common in people with the condition.
Researchers compared 20 patients who had cells implanted with 19 patients who underwent a sham surgery for comparison purposes. All were tested for movement problems before the surgery and then again four months and 12 months later. Researchers then compared the scores between the two groups.
Results showed increasingly different scores for the two groups over time, with the greatest differences attributed to steadily worsening scores in the patients who did not receive the cell implants. Patients age 60 and older had the worst outcomes. Researchers believe the cell implants may have helped stabilize the brains of the patients who received them, suggesting the treatment could keep Parkinson's disease from worsening.
Specialists say that this is an important beginning and they suggest additional studies in the area may one day lead to "highly specific and effective new genomic-based therapies."