Pig Brain Cells May Reduce Parkinson's in Humans

A new study suggests implanted pig cells may alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.


Before New Zealand biotech company Living Cell Technologies can be sure of what they’re seeing, they need to do some placebo testing, but they seem to have discovered something that could offer new hope to sufferers of Parkinson’s disease. It has to do with cells taken from pathogen-free pigs descended from a herd discovered in the remote sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands. Preliminary tests suggest that when the cells are implanted in people, they may alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Aukland Island piglets (JOHN SULLIVAN)

Living Cell Technologies has a product called NTCELL®, which is an seawaeed-alginate-coated capsule that contains clusters of neonatal porcine choroid plexus cells. The cells are coated with another one of the company’s products, IMMUPEL™ to protect them from attack by the immune system of subjects into which they’ve been implanted.

NTCELL capsule (LIVING CELL TECHNOLOGY)

According to the company:

Choroid plexus cells are naturally occurring “support” cells for the brain and secrete cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which contains a range of factors that support nerve cell functions and protective enzymes that are crucial for nerve growth and healthy functioning.

Living Cell’s Ken Taylor tells New Scientist, “It’s putting in a little neurochemical factory to promote new nerve cell growth and repair.” The hope is that they’ll help patients produce dopamine more effectively, since the problem with Parkinson’s is that it kills the cells that produce it. Earlier trials of the therapy in rats showed promise, though human testing so far has involved only four human subjects. Each of the subjects had 40 half-millimeter-wide NTCELL capsules implanted in one side of their brain, with each capsule holding about a thousand pig cells. Cells are implanted in the brain’s choroid plexus.

Choroid plexus (LIVING CELL TECHNOLOGY)

Eighteen months after the implantation surgery, subjects reported a significant improvement in symptoms. The treatment “Improved every rating scale in first 4 patients,” according to Living Cell.

Symptom reduction (LIVING CELL TECHNOLOGY)

Living Cell is a little skeptical of the results, since other studies of Parkinson’s patients suggest they’re susceptible to the placebo effect: Subjects want to believe they’re improving and so they report to researchers that they are. In this test, patients said their symptoms improved immediately after surgery. But, as University of Bristols’ Steve Gill told New Scientist, “Nerve cells don’t regrow that fast.” 

Still, 18 months later, the subjects’ symptoms retained the 14-point improvement, a promising sign considering that, as Parkinson’s patients, they’d have been expected to worsen over an extended period. Gill wonders if they didn’t exaggerate their symptoms to be be included in the trial.

A second, larger, placebo-controlled trial was undertaken by Living Cell in May 2017, with 18 subjects. Up to 120 capsules were implanted in both sides of subjects’ brains this time. The results of this trial are expected in November.

Pig cells are also being tested in treatments for other diseases involving nerve-cell death, such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. There is, of course, always the concern that pig cells could transfer porcine disorders to humans, but so far, at least, this hasn’t proven to be the case for diabetes treatments that depend on porcine pancreas cells.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Why 'upgrading' humanity is a transhumanist myth

Upload your mind? Here's a reality check on the Singularity.

Videos
  • Though computer engineers claim to know what human consciousness is, many neuroscientists say that we're nowhere close to understanding what it is, or its source.
  • Scientists are currently trying to upload human minds to silicon chips, or re-create consciousness with algorithms, but this may be hubristic because we still know so little about what it means to be human.
  • Is transhumanism a journey forward or an escape from reality?
Keep reading Show less