• Nearly 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD) every year
  • PD is caused by a loss of neurons in a part of the brain
  • Scientists have accidentally discovered a new way of reversing the loss of neurons

In what appears to be a scientific breakthrough that holds out hope for people suffering from neurodegenerative disorders, scientists accidentally cured mice of Parkinson’s disease during a recent study.

The experts from the University of California in San Diego had sought to better understand the role of proteins in connective cells in the brain in their study, but seems to have stumbled upon a way to grow neurons, or nerve cells, in a lab easily.

Parkinson’s disease occurs due to a loss of dopamine neurons in a structure located in the midbrain called ‘substantia nigra,’ which is responsible for modulating motor movement. This should explain why patients diagnosed with this condition typically suffer from tremors, loss of balance, and slowness in movement.

Just like with other neurodegenerative disorders, there have been no disease-modifying treatment options for Parkinson’s.

The researchers were studying a protein, called ‘PTB’, that turns genes on or off within cells. In order to better understand how this gene influences cell functions, they silenced the protein in the connective tissue cell fibroblasts. They then grew those cells in Petri dishes to look for any changes.

Surprisingly, a couple of weeks later, they found that a large number of these fibroblasts had been replaced by neurons. What they found was that when the protein PTB was silenced, brain cells called astrocytes got converted into neurons.

“Researchers around the world have tried many ways to generate neurons in the lab, using stem cells and other means, so we can study them better, as well as to use them to replace lost neurons in neurodegenerative diseases. The fact we could produce so many neurons in such a relatively easy way came as a big surprise,” Yahoo Style quoted the study’s lead author Dr. Xiang-Dong Fu.

The newly formed neurons grew as normal and even sent connections to other parts of the brain. Turning off the PTB gene completely restored normal movement in the mice and the effects lasted throughout their life.

This new strategy for treating neurodegeneration offers appears promising and might be used to help those with advanced forms of these diseases.

Stem cell transplants have aimed to replace the lost cells in those with Parkinson’s disease for a long time. But they struggled to integrate and function effectively within the brain.

The researchers believe that their new technique, which has overcome that hurdle in mice models, could pave the way toward a new treatment approach that might be able to reverse Parkinson’s disease in the near future.

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