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Stem Cell Therapy Helps Huntington’s

Stem cell transplants may provide benefits in treating Huntington’s disease, according to a new study.

Researchers found the benefits of experimental stem cell therapy in reducing symptoms -- such as muscle stiffness and memory loss -- peaked after two years and then faded four to six years after the procedure in people with Huntington’s disease.

While not a cure for the rare and difficult-to-treat condition, the study suggests that transplanting healthy stem cells to replace those brain cells damaged by Huntington’s disease may offer patients long-term improvements and stability. The progressive neurological disorder causes rapid, jerky movements, loss of memory, and behavior problems.

Stem Cell Transplant May Offer Stability

In the study, published in The Lancet Neurology, researchers followed five patients with Huntington’s disease for up to six years following experimental treatment with stem cell transplants.

Previously, a small pilot study showed the treatment led to improvements in movement and brain function for two years after surgery, but the long-term benefits of stem cell therapy in treating Huntington’s disease was unclear.

The results showed that the improvements reached a plateau two years after surgery and then faded away at a variable rate for four to six years after surgery. Two patients who did not benefit from stem cell transplantation two years after the procedure continued to decline in the same way as untreated patients.

Researchers say further refinements in stem cell transplantation technique as well as selecting patients appropriate for the procedure may improve the potential benefits of stem cell therapy in treating Huntington’s disease.

By Jennifer Warner, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Bachoud-Lévi, A. The Lancet Neurology, Feb. 27, 2006 early online edition. News release, The Lancet Neurology.