26 October 2010
By B S Manu Rao
Neurosurgeon Uses Them As Cure For Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s
"I used adult mesenchymal stem cells derived from the bone marrow. They were transplanted into the brain through keyhole surgery. These stem cells multiply and thereby regenerate the damaged areas of the brain. This leads to reactivation of brain cells, resulting in recovery from the disease," Dr Venkataramana explains.
It is for the first time that stem cells have been used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease in India, and has been published in a peer reviewed journal for the first time ever.
Halt To Degeneration
Such degenerative diseases of the brain have no cure so far, and are progressive. They ultimately lead to disability of the patients. "I have used this therapy on over 40 patients so far and in all of them, progression of the disease has ceased. This is the first benefit.
Now, the process of their returning to normal will begin. In about six months to one year, I expect them to be near normal."
In all these cases, the brain cells die prematurely, leading to loss of neural network and secretion of neuro transmitters. These are needed for the different actions and controls of the body. With the cells dying, these actions are inhibited, leading to permanent disability. "I was moved by the plight of my patients and their families. I had to tell them there was no hope of a cure and all that we had was symptomatic treatment. I was taught in medical school that the brain could never be regenerated. Now, this has been proved wrong by medical science," says Dr Venkataramana.
Thus began his quest to find a cure by regenerating brain cells. He created a state-of-the-art research facility – Advanced Neuro Science Allies – and began his research into the use of stem cell therapy three years ago. "I picked out authentic mesenchymal stem cells from bone marrow using a marker. The stem cells were purified and tried on animals for safety. Subsequently, we used the therapy on patients," he says.
The results have been more than encouraging. "Initially, the findings are that we are on the course to a complete cure. All the patients treated so far have a marked decrease in the need for medication. Their symptoms have reduced drastically. They have an increased feeling of well-being and it is obvious that they are recovering. However, there are still some factors to be addressed and understood."
Does this mean a change in the way Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy and other brain degenerations will be treated in future? "Definitely. Conventionally, such intervention is recommended at the fag end of the disease’s progression, when the maximum damage has happened.
Ideally, this therapy should be provided at the earliest as recovery is quicker and better from the beginning, and chances of the patient becoming normal are more," Dr Venkataramana says.
The most encouraging results have been with children suffering from cerebral palsy. "They have shown significant recovery in their cognitive and physical abilities," he says. This promises to be the beginning of a new era in neuro sciences.