Pig tissue may be used to treat Parkinson's

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Scientists have made significant breakthroughs towards using animal tissue transplants for treating paralysis, senile dementia and brain damage.

Scientists have made significant breakthroughs towards using animal tissue transplants for treating paralysis, senile dementia and brain damage.

Two teams of researchers have announced steps towards the transplant of nerve cells from pigs into people suffering incurable spinal injuries and brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease. The scientists believe experiments on monkeys will lead to the routine use of animal tissues to repair human brain degeneration and regain the use of paralysed limbs.

Details of the research, released at a scientific conference in Japan, emerged as the British government issued a consultation paper on animal-to-human transplants, known as xenotransplants, to garner opinions before issuing the first licence for such an operation.

The UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority has proposed a list of precautions that could be put in place to limit the risk of spreading animal viruses into humans as a result of cross- species transplants. Some of the precautions under consideration are a promise from recipients not to have children, to use barrier contraception at all times and to provide the names of sexual partners who can be monitored by specialists.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health emphasised, however, said that the possible precautions have not been finalised. She said: "Unless or until any risk of infection is established, we need to proceed with caution."

Teams of scientists around the world are exploring ways of using animal tissues to repair human organs, including the two research groups at Harvard and Yale Universities, who are working with an American biotechnology company, Alexion.

The company has developed a line of genetically engineered pigs whose organs are less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.

Stephen Squinto of Alexion said the pig cells regenerated the electrical-insulation sheath around nerve cells of monkeys. Such cell degeneration in humans causes multiple sclerosis. The pig cells were also successfully grafted on to the brain of monkeys with a Parkinson's-like disorder.

Dr Squinto said: "This data suggests that this approach may lead to the development of a new therapy for spinal cord injury patients." Alexion said that the pig cells could be used to restore lost functions in sufferers of Parkinson's. It hopes to start human trials soon.

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