MIT Technology Review describes a new treatment that will help to prevent the death of neurons caused by Parkinson’s disease. The method is called “the Trojan” treatment after the story of the Trojan Horse in the Iliad.
“An international team of researchers has now developed a technique that might be used to prevent this cell death. They engineer immune cells to carry protective stowaway molecules, and the hope is that these Trojan cells can help prevent neuron death by delivering treatments across the blood-brain barrier-a layer of cellular structures that blocks most molecules from passing into the brain. The researchers have so far tested the approach successfully in mice.
“The hope is that one day these immune cells could be extracted from a patient’s own blood, engineered to carry a therapeutic payload, and injected back into the body. The approach might be able to slow the progress of other neurodegenerative diseases associated with neuron death such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease.”
The trick was not finding something that could guard neurons from being killed off by Parkinson’s. The trick was getting it past the blood/brain barrier to get to the threatened neurons.
“The researchers used a common antioxidant enzyme, called catalase, to prevent cell death in the brain. And they engineered immune cells called macrophages to carry the genetic blueprints for catalase into the brain. Together they could travel across the protective blood-brain barrier. The macrophages are attracted to dying neurons, which release signals into the blood calling for help.”
The Mayo Clinic describes Parkinson’s as a “progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects your movement.” The most notable symptom of the disease is uncontrollable trembling, especially in the arms, as well as a certain stiffness and slowness of movement. There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but there are certain medications that will alleviate the symptoms. Surgery is occasionally called for to regulate portions of the brain in order to improve the symptoms.
The new treatment, developed by researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the University of North Carolina, and the Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia is one of the first reported that actually prevents damage from happening due to Parkinson’s.
Human trials will no doubt be next in line for developing the treatment before it is approved for clinical use.