Brain cell transplant slows advance of fatal disease

A controversial operation involving the transplant of foetal brain cells into sufferers from a devastating brain disease has slowed the patients' decline.

Three patients who had holes drilled in their skulls and millions of cells extracted from aborted foetuses inserted into their brains were still benefiting from the treatment six years later, a study has shown.

The patients have Huntington's disease, an inherited brain disorder that leads to gradual mental and functional decline ending in death in 15 to 20 years. It is caused by a single faulty gene and parents who carry it have a 50 per cent chance of passing it on to their children.

Researchers have been experimenting with foetal brain cell transplants to treat the most serious brain disorders, including Huntington's and Parkinson's disease, for two decades. Several hundred patients have received the transplants in Europe and the US.

Six to eight foetuses are required to provide the necessary brain cells for each operation. Women were asked to donate foetal material only after they had decided to have an abortion.

Early results indicated limited success but the latest finding is the longest study of the effects of the treatment.

Experimental operations on Huntington's disease patients were carried out in France in the late 1990s led by researchers from the Henri Mondor hospital, Créteil. Five patients had the surgery of whom three benefited. In the other two the operation failed to slow the disease's progress.

Writing in The Lancet Neurology, published online today, Dr Anne-Catherine Bachoud-Levi said the procedure led to a period of "improvement and stability" for the three patients lasting several years. But then some functions associated with movement control started to deteriorate in what the researchers call "secondary decline".

They say the treatment is "not a permanent cure" for the condition, but offers a period of remission. Shortly after the start of the French study, doctors at Addenbrooke's hospital, Cambridge, carried out the same procedure on four British patients.

A BBC documentary broadcast in 2001 showed the first UK patient to undergo the operation. "Gaye", then aged 52, said: "The co-ordination is so much better. My legs used to buckle whenever I got up. That doesn't happen now."

A spokeswoman for the Huntington's Disease Association said: "We welcome any advance if people can be helped. But this is major brain surgery and there are risks."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Call Centre Manager - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative online car purc...

Recruitment Genius: Subscriptions and Marketing Assistant

£12500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A subscriptions and marketing a...

Metail Ltd: Business Development Manager for Asia Pacific

£35,000 - £40,000 based on experience : Metail Ltd: As a Business Development ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Supervisor

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well establis...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate