By Pete Blanchard, WHCU Health Reporter
Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have revealed a new brain cell therapy that could be a major breakthrough to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that affects an estimated one million Americans. It’s a condition associated with the loss of dopaminergic neurons—cells that produce the important neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dr. Christoph Proschel, Ph.D. is a molecular and cell biologist at University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study.
He said dopamine has received all of the focus in Parkinson’s studies, but he and researchers have found dopamine is only just part of the picture.
“We’ve actually approached this problem from a very different angle, which is rather than just simply replacing the cells that are lost, we looked at the whole picture,” Proschel said.
As part of the study, researchers isolated a population of brain cells called astrocytes. When they implanted these astrocytes into the brains of rats that displayed signs of Parkinson’s, they found that the astrocytes allowed neurons in the brain to restore their activity and reacquire their ability to make dopamine.
“We’re thinking of these astrocytes like a repair crew that restores the environment so that the cells that are still there can do their job,” he said.
Researchers say the work reveals a promising approach to not only treat Parkinson’s disease, but a variety of neurological afflictions.
The study appeared in the European journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.