Doctors have performed the first-ever surgical procedure using gene therapy in the brain of an Alzheimer's patient, in an effort to stave off the effects of the debilitating disease, in La Jolla, California.
The groundbreaking 11-hour procedure that took place on April 5 involved implanting genetically engineered cells into the brain of a 60-year-old woman from Oregon.
The cells, skin cells taken from the patient herself, were engineered to produce a substance called nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is known to help restore connections between brain cells that deteriorate with aging. The cells were grown in the lab to increase their numbers and genetically modified so that they would produce NGF.
The quantity of skin cells implanted amounted to about one hundredth of a teaspoon--or roughly two drops--and were implanted in a region of the brain approximately 1.5 centimeters in area, according to the project leader Dr. Mark H. Tuszynski of the University of California-San Diego and the Veterans Administration.
Dr. Hoi Sang U led the surgical procedure.While the technique is not considered to be a cure for the debilitating illness, Tuszynski is optimistic that the newly inserted NGF-producing genes will take over the role of failing cells and delay the rapid decline of brain function that is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
The research studies of NGF have shown that the chemical substantially prevents the death of cells in the brain and it reverses the atrophy that happens during the aging process.