Neurotransplantation for Parkinson's disease

Surgery Overview

Neurotransplantation is an experimental procedure in which fetal brain cells (neurons) that produce dopamine are implanted in the area of the brain that controls movement (striatum). In theory, the transplanted neurons can make up for the loss of the normal dopamine-producing cells that occurs in Parkinson's disease.

In earlier trials, tissue from the adrenal glands, which are located above the kidneys, was transplanted to the brain, but symptoms showed little improvement. The procedure using adrenal gland tissue is no longer done.

What To Expect After Surgery

You may be mildly confused following surgery.

Why It Is Done

Neurotransplantation is considered an experimental treatment for Parkinson's disease. It may be used in people with Parkinson's disease when levodopa no longer controls their symptoms and they have developed severe, uncontrollable motor fluctuations.

Neurotransplantation is not done on people who have:

This type of surgery is being done on an extremely small number of people at this time.

How Well It Works

Not very many people have had neurotransplantation using fetal tissue. Results among those who have had the surgery have been mixed. While some people had improved motor function, many people experienced involuntary movements (dyskinesias) following the procedure.1

It is unclear whether neurotransplantation provides any lasting benefit for people with Parkinson's disease. Additional studies are needed before any recommendations about this procedure can be made.

Risks

Serious permanent complications are not common in neurotransplantation surgery. Complications can include:

  • Loss of voluntary movement (paralysis) in part of the body.
  • Loss of sensation.
  • Stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.
  • Temporary balance problems.
  • Numbness around the mouth (leading to drooling) and in the hands.
  • Weakness in one side of the body.
  • Infection.
  • Seizures.

What To Think About

Neurotransplantation is still considered very experimental. It is available in only a few major medical centers and is being done on an extremely small number of people. The procedure is not a realistic treatment option at this time.

A great deal of social and ethical controversy has surrounded the use of fetal tissue for transplantation. Brain tissue from 4 to 10 fetuses is needed for each neurotransplantation procedure. This controversy, along with the lack of federal funding in the United States for fetal tissue research, has slowed research on this form of treatment.

Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.

References

Citations

  1. Minagar A, et al. (2003). Parkinson's disease. In RW Evans, ed., Saunders Manual of Neurologic Practice, pp. 205–209. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Last Updated: December 8, 2008

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