For years, scientists have hoped to cure some intractable diseases of the brain by using cell transplants. In Parkinson's disease, for example, they hope the replacement cells will make dopamine, a key substance the diseased brains lack. But such treatments are controversial because the best candidates are still-malleable cells from fetal brains. Anti-abortionists fear the use of fetal tissue would spur abortions, and in 1988 the U.S. banned using federal funds for the research.
By using private funds, some scientists have continued cell-transplant research. In the Nov. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, three groups of scientists report promising results. Yale physicians said three of four patients they treated experienced "real benefits in the activities of daily living." Seven patients at the University of Colorado showed significant improvement. And two people who had taken drugs that induce a Parkinson-like rigidity improved dramatically in a Swedish-American collaboration. The researchers don't know how long the positive effects last, but the results offer hope that these brain diseases might be treatable.