By Roberta Friedman, Ph.D.
Special to BioWorld

Monkeys with experimental Parkinson’s disease have been successfully treated witha naturally occurring brain component, made by Fidia Pharmaceutical Corp., that has alsoshown promise in healing other neurologic injuries.

Reporting today in Science, researchers at Hahnemann University medical schoolin Philadelphia showed that Fidia’s GM1 ganglioside improved the condition of monkeysgiven a type of Parkinson’s by injection of a chemical, MPTP.

Other than GM1 treatment, only implantation of fetal brain grafts in MPTP-impairedmonkeys has improved cognitive performance as measured by object retrieval, the scientistssaid.

Prior studies in animals have suggested that GM-1, a complex sugar-lipid of the nervecell membrane, can stimulate the growth of nerve cells and help regenerate damaged nervetissues.

GM1, marketed in Europe by Fidia SpA of Italy, parent of Washington, D.C.-based FidiaPharmaceutical, showed significant ability to spur rehabilitation of patients treated forspinal cord injury at the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, according to a study publishedin the New England Journal of Medicine in June 1991.

Fetal brain grafts, meanwhile, were reported to improve the symptoms of people withadvanced Parkinson’s at this week’s meeting of the American Academy of Neurologyin San Diego. Only one of seven patients given the fetal tissue transplants into theirbrains showed no change in symptoms, according to physicians from the University ofColorado medical school.

Promising results in an animal model of the disease, using genetically engineeredneural tissue, were also presented at the meeting. UCLA researchers showed that rats withexperimentally induced Parkinson’s, given transplants of tissue engineered to makedopamine, experienced a 70 percent improvement in their symptoms. Dopamine is the nervecell messenger missing in Parkinson’s disease.