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'Too early for stem cell work on humans'

It is still too early to experiment with stem cells on human beings to find a cure for movement disorders like Parkinson's Disease, a British expert has cautioned.

india Updated: Mar 13, 2006 12:46 IST

It is still too early to experiment with stem cells on human beings to find a cure for movement disorders like Parkinson's Disease, a British expert has cautioned.

"Experiments with foetalcell transplants for treatment of Parkinson's Disease have been on for the last 15-20 years with some success and some disappointments," said Niall P Quinn, professor of clinical neurology at the Institute of Neurology and National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.

"Yet it will be a while before we can start stem cell experiments on human beings as we want to be as sure as possible that it is safe and has a reasonable chance of success," Quinn said during a visit here to interact with Indian neurologists and invite membership to the International Movement Disorder Society.

Currently 23 of the estimated 1,100 neurologists in the country are members of the international body that facilitates exchange of knowledge on developments in the field.

The British specialist, who has worked as a visiting professor in India in 1997, highlighted how in two failed experiments the patients died due to uncontrolled growth of foetal grafts.

During interaction with leading neurologists in Hyderabad and in the capital at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Quinn had an opportunity to exchange information on the developments in the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases resulting in movement disorders, particularly Parkinson's disease.

The medicines being expensive in India, most people have to make do with cheaper drugs, he admitted.

"The most effective drug and cheapest treatment for Parkinson's Disease remains L-Dopa, which has been around for 40 years. However it has its own disadvantages as the patients can develop unwanted movements," the expert said.

Though at present there are no drugs to prevent the onset of this disease, Quinn is optimistic that the scenario may change in the future.

There is considerable focus on early diagnosis as early treatment can help the patient.

"Sooner or later therapies would be developed. The challenge is to identify patients with Parkinson's

Disease early so that treatment can be started," he said.

Some of the symptoms that could forewarn likelihood of movement disorder is "a particular kind of sleep disorder - rapid eye movement (REM) sleep - when a person tends to act out dreams and can turn violent. Only a fraction of people with this kind of sleep disorder can go on to develop Parkinson's Disease."

A sudden loss of sense of smell could also be an indication. Research has also helped to so far identify five genes that can lead to different types of Parkinson's Disease.

"There are at lease six types of Parkinson's diseases. It may be important to know the type as we may discover that treatment might have to be individually tailored," said Quinn.

For some patients, where movement disorder can no longer be controlled with oral medication, surgery can be helpful.

"Unfortunately in India the high cost of surgery for insertion of deep brain stimulators, which costs around $9,000, can be a detriment. It is an effective treatment for some patients in place of the old method of destroying the damaged parts of brain," Quinn said.

Highly admiring of the knowledge and training of Indian neurologists, Quinn however felt India needs to focus more on at least doubling their numbers, though the requirement is 10-fold considering that one neurologist in India serves the needs of a million people.

In Britain, the ratio is six to seven per million, while in the US it is five-fold more.

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 14:15 IST