Parkinson’s disease is a condition that many people live with and it occurs when parts of the brain are damaged and so the brain deteriorates over time. A cause of Parkinson’s disease is when the cells in the brain responsible for producing dopamine become damaged and so don’t perform their usual function. Dopamine is released by nerve cells (neurons) and it acts as a neurotransmitter, meaning it helps to send signals to other neurons. Due to the fact that people with Parkinson’s have a lack of dopamine producing cells, this is the reason responsible for Parkinson’s patients to find it difficult to sometimes control their movements.
Currently, there are studies being carried out by scientists testing if transplanting foetal cells in to people living with Parkinson’s to see if the transplanted cells can help act as a substitute for the dying neurons in the brain of the patients. One problem with this study however is the way in which the foetal cells are gathered as they may pose an ethical problem for some because they are extracted from aborted pregnancies. A newly developed method of treating Parkinson’s is going to be trialled and it sounds more extreme than more orthodox methods. The new method involves injecting a virus in to the brain of the patient in the hope to amend some of the damaged brain cells.
Precautions have been taken with this treatment and so the virus that will be injected in to patients has been carefully manufactured to hold four genes that plan to amend the star shaped glial cells that surround neurons (astrocytes) in to cells that can begin to produce dopamine. The tests will be firstly carried out on mice which have damaged dopamine producing neurons in the hope to see improvements to their movement control and overall wellbeing. The virus will be confined to one specific region of the mice brain to reduce the risk of any possible infections or the worsening of any existing health conditions.
Although this is exciting, the testing must be thoroughly trialled and be safe on the mice before it can even be considered for human use.