Study Finds Fetal Tissue Transplants Make Parkinson’s Patients Worse

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 23, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Study Finds Fetal Tissue Transplants Make Parkinson’s Patients Worse

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 23, 2003

Tampa, FL ( — A clinical study using fetal tissue from abortions failed miserably in an attempt to control the symptoms of patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Doctors hoped to cure patients by transplanting fetal tissue cells into their brains. Not only did it not work, but patients began to develop uncontrollable movements in their limbs. Another similar study, conducted in 2001, produced similar convulsions.

The fetal cells came from tissue from babies who had been victims of abortion.

Pro-life groups say the results show that not only are treatments using adult stem cells more ethical, but more effective.

Dr. Thomas Freeman, a USF neurosurgery professor, co-author of the study and medical director of USF’s Center for Aging and Brain Repair, said he could not recommend the treatment to other patients.

For those afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, their neurons that fail to produce dopamine begin to die. Without dopamine to transmit signals to the brain, loss of control of one’s body and limbs becomes a problem. Many shake, sometimes violently, and have troubles balancing. Simple tasks can become difficult.

Researchers hoped the fetal cells would begin the production of dopamine in the dying neurons, but that wasn’t the case.

Dr. Warren Olanow, lead author of the study and neurology department chairman at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, doesn’t know why the patients got worse.

"That, to me, is the big obstacle," Olanow said. "If we don’t know why these people are having a potentially serious side effect, we got trouble."

Olanow and Freeman hope to stop the side effects with more time in the lab.

However, Freeman admitted adult stem cells may be needed instead. He said researchers may abandon fetal cells from abortions and turn to stem cells, derived from bone marrow or the blood of the umbilical cord.

"We have to get a more reliable cell source," Freeman said.