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Hope for Parkinson's Patients?

April 20, 1998

Researchers are finding encouraging early results for treating Parkinson's disease by transplanting fetal pig cells into patients' brains. In one case, a man who spent most of his time in a wheelchair is "really up and moving. . . . He can play golf again," said Dr. James M. Schumacher, a neurosurgeon.

Another patient has been able to stop using a cane to walk, said Schumacher, of Neurological Associates in Sarasota, Fla. Schumacher will report on the transplants later this month at the annual meeting of the American Assn. of Neurological Surgeons. The study was designed to look at the procedure's safety rather than effectiveness, and Schumacher said no major side effects appeared. The pig cells were genetically engineered so that they are not immediately rejected by humans.

Most of the recipients improved to some degree, he said. As a group, the 11 patients improved about 14% on standard rating scales by six months after surgery and about 20% by a year afterward, Schumacher said.

Clot-Dissolvers as Effective as Surgery, Study Finds

A study at medical centers in North America and Europe found that clot-dissolving drugs and surgery are equally effective for treating blood clots in legs. Physicians commonly use surgery to remove such clots or to bypass the blocked artery. But the study of 544 people at 113 medical centers found that amputation-free survival rates were about the same for the procedures: 75% for people who had surgery versus 72% for people who took drugs.

Although people who received the clot-dissolving medicines faced a higher risk of unnecessary bleeding, the medicines reduced the need for surgery "with no significant increased risk of amputation or death," a research team from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry reported in the April 16 New England Journal of Medicine. Therefore, the drugs can often "offer patients definitive treatment with less accompanying trauma than major surgery," they wrote.

Link Between Anxious Families and Childhood Stomachaches?

Children who have recurrent abdominal pain tend to come from anxious families that frequently visit their doctors, and their mothers are more likely to be neurotic than the mothers of healthier children, British researchers have found. Such parental anxiety and preoccupation with physical health may reinforce the child's concern about minor medical conditions, such as stomachaches, Dr. Simon Wessely and his colleagues at the King's College School of Medicine and Dentistry report in the April 18 British Medical Journal.

The researchers found that most of the stomachaches such children complained about had no obvious medical cause. The persistent pain in childhood did not lead to increased abdominal pain in adulthood, they concluded, but it did seem to be a predictor of psychiatric disorders in later life.

Antioxidants May Help Fight Diabetes Complications

Supplements of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can help stave off the complications of diabetes, according to researchers from the Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Emmanuel Opara and his colleagues studied 50 people with type 2 diabetes and 20 healthy people of the same age.

They reported Sunday at a meeting of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in San Francisco that the diabetics displaying the onset of side effects had lower levels of antioxidants in their blood than did the diabetics without complications, and that both groups had lower levels than the healthy controls.

Natural Antibiotic Could Lead to New Treatments

UCLA researchers have isolated a natural antibiotic from the female urinary and reproductive systems, which could lead to new treatments for chronic infections, such as pelvic inflammatory disease. Human beta-defensin 1 (HBD-1), a new member of a group of antibiotics originally discovered in white blood cells in 1985, could also lead to treatments for urinary tract and vaginal infections, which afflict millions of women, said lead researcher Dr. Tomas Ganz.

HBD-1 is produced by the human immune system, the team reports in the April Journal of Clinical Investigation. Unlike other naturally occurring antibiotics, however, HBD-1 does not require the presence of an infection to start its production. "If we can learn how to control the levels of this new antibiotic and learn how to increase its production, we have the potential to improve the natural resistance of the body to infections in this area," Ganz said.

--Compiled by THOMAS H. MAUGH II

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