People suffering from Parkinson’s disease have difficulty controlling their movements due to the death of neurones that produce dopamine – a “chemical product that triggers cerebral signalling”. A trial is currently underway to treat patients with Parkinson’s Disease using foetal cells from aborted pregnancies. These cells are transplanted in patients to replace the dead neurones.
In view of the ethical controversy surrounding this trial and the “limited quantity of aborted foetal cells”, a team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (Sweden) has investigated another way of replacing dopaminergic neurones. Scientists injected a virus into the brain of mice whose dopaminergic neurones had been destroyed. This virus was designed to transport four genes triggering the reprogramming of astrocytes, supporting nerve cells, into dopaminergic neurones. An improvement in the movement of the mice was observed just five weeks after the injection. No sign of tumour or any other adverse reactions were observed. The team still has some work to do before this procedure can be applied to humans but initial results are promising.