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Eye Cell Implants Improve Parkinson's Symptoms
Date:4/28/2008

Small study found measurable gains in those with moderate to severe disease

MONDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- By implanting specialized cells found in the human eye into areas of the brain damaged by Parkinson's disease, researchers were able to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life in people with moderate to severe Parkinson's.

The new treatment, dubbed Spheramine, reduced symptoms experienced when people were off their Parkinson's medications by 44 percent for as long as four years of follow-up. Quality-of-life measurements were up about 23 percent, according to the study, expected to be presented April 29 at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons' annual meeting, in Chicago.

"This is a promising study on a form of therapy that is different from anything out there," said the study's lead author, Dr. Roy Bakay, a professor of neurological surgery and the A. Watson and Sarah Armour Presidential Chair at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

"This therapy may be beneficial in itself, or it may be used as additional therapy," added Bakay, who was at Emory University in Atlanta at the time of the study.

Spheramine is made from cells called human retinal pigment epithelial cells (hRPE) that are found naturally in the human eye. By combining these cells with microscopic gelatin beads called microcarrier support matrix (MSM), the Emory researchers were able to produce Spheramine, a targeted therapy for Parkinson's. Spheramine can be implanted in the brain, where the eye cells naturally begin to produce levodopa. The researchers believe the levodopa is then turned into dopamine, a neurotransmitter lacking in people with Parkinson's.

"Spheramine is not stem cells. There's no requirement for immunosuppression, and these cells are easily harvested from eye banks and are readily available," Bakay said.

The new study included six patients with moderate to severe Park
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