Breakthrough in Parkinson’s research sparks hope for cure

Scientists have made a breakthrough in the understanding of how Parkinson’s disease spreads in the brain, prompting hopes of potential new treatments for the degenerative disorder.

The research, published in Scientific Reports Nature, provides the first strong evidence of how Parkinson’s evolves in the brain and offers the possibility of stopping it in its tracks.

A team at the University of Auckland, New Zealand led by Professor Maurice Curtis discovered that pathological proteins (known as ‘Lewy bodies’) in Parkinson’s disease could be spread from cell to cell.

The researchers examined human brain cells cultured from brains donated for the study. It was previously known that Lewy bodies accumulated in susceptible cells, but not that they could spread.

“The implication is that if there is a spread of the Lewy bodies in the brain then the spread could be stopped early on,” Curtis said, noting that understanding this spread allows researchers to pinpoint new targets when developing treatments.

“The traditional way of thinking about Parkinson’s was that there was a susceptible area in the brain and, if you could fix that area then the next most susceptible area would soon be affected,” he added.

“But if the Parkinson’s disease pathology spreads then it may be possible to stop it in its tracks.”

Curtis told the New Zealand Herald that as it takes years for symptoms of the neurological disease to develop, it gives medical professionals a window of opportunity to stop its spread.

The team also determined that non-neuronal cells such as blood vessels called pericytes, appear to harbour and spread the Lewy bodies rather than just the neurons, Curtis explained: “Most literature suggests that Lewy bodies cause the most problems in neurons but this paper proposes blood vessel pericytes to be significant.”

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