New research published in Nature Biotechnology shows that for the first time it may be possible to reprogramme cells inside the brain to reverse the symptoms of Parkinson's.
The study, which was carried out in mice, demonstrates that a virus can deliver instructions to turn cells that are not lost in Parkinson's into the type that are – potentially offering a new way to replace lost brain cells.
Cell replacement in Parkinson's
Parkinson's is caused by the loss of dopamine producing brain cells. Dopamine is used to help the brain communicate messages about movement, but as these cells are lost the brain cannot control movement effectively.
If successful, it would turn this approach into a viable therapy that could improve the lives of people with Parkinson's and, ultimately, lead to the cure that millions are waiting for.
There are currently no treatments that can slow or stop Parkinson's, but cell replacement could help to reverse the condition.
Ongoing research in people with Parkinson's is attempting to transplant pre-made cells into the right part of the brain.
The study shows that astrocytes, a type of cell that supports other brain cells and is not affected in Parkinson's, could be turned into dopamine-producing cells inside the brain. This could pave the way to replacing the cells lost in Parkinson's without the need for a transplant.
A completely new way to replace lost cells
Parkinson's UK Deputy Director of Research David Dexter said:
"Replacing the cells that are lost in Parkinson's is a possible way to reverse its symptoms, and could one day be a cure for the condition.
"This research is hugely promising, as it offers a completely new way to replace cells that are lost in Parkinson's.
"However, the location of the new cells created through this process could make it difficult to control the delivery of dopamine to the brain.
"Further development of this technique is now needed, so it encourages dopamine to be produced and released in a controlled manner, like the original brain cells.
"If successful, it would turn this approach into a viable therapy that could improve the lives of people with Parkinson's and, ultimately, lead to the cure that millions are waiting for."