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Experimental Brain Surgery Performed in L.A.

Times Science Writer

In the first operation of its kind in California, surgeons at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center have implanted adrenal gland tissues into the brain of a 43-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease, it was announced Tuesday.

The patient, a former Los Angeles carpet layer, is at least the 46th Parkinson’s victim in the world to undergo the experimental surgery and the 11th in the United States. The first U.S. patient underwent the test procedure on April 9 at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Since then, the operation has been performed in Tampa, Chicago and New York City. The technique was pioneered by doctors at Centro Medico La Raza in Mexico City.

The Mexican doctors and surgeons from Beijing have reported dramatic improvements in most of the 27 Parkinson’s victims on which they have performed the surgery. For the others, not enough time has passed for their progress, if any, to be evaluated.

In a four-hour operation at County-USC Medical Center on Thursday, a team led by neurosurgeon Michael Apuzzo removed one of the patient’s two adrenal glands from above the kidney, sliced it into 12 pieces and used a long hypodermic needle to inject the pieces through a quarter-inch hole into the patient’s brain.

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The patient, who was not identified, is doing “extremely well,” according to neurologist Leslie P. Weiner, and may be released this weekend.

Weiner said it may be as long as six months before the physicians will know whether the operation was a success.

The patient, who moved to Arizona two months ago, has been unable to work for five years because of the disease. He experiences severe stiffness and pain and needs help caring for himself, Weiner said. “It took him four to five minutes to write his name,” he said.

Parkinson’s disease, which afflicts as many as 1.5 million Americans, most of them over 50, is characterized by severe tremors and rigidity of the limbs. Its cause is unknown, but victims suffer from a deficiency of the brain hormone dopamine, which participates in the transmission of messages between brain cells.

The adrenal glands secrete hormones that control sexual and metabolic functions, among them dopamine, but that dopamine is prevented from reaching the brain by the blood-brain barrier, which shields the delicate brain cells from large molecules and foreign organisms while allowing nutrients to enter.

By implanting the adrenal tissues into the brain, physicians hope to bypass the barrier and allow dopamine to reach brain cells directly.


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