Chilean doctors work on a new therapy for Parkinson’s Disease

The researchers are developing an innovative treatment that consists in the extraction of skin cells from patients so they can then be manipulated to obtain specialized neurons.

A group of experts at the Universidad de Chile is developing a new therapy that can alleviate the effects of Parkinson’s disease
A group of experts at the Universidad de Chile is developing a new therapy that can alleviate the effects of Parkinson’s disease

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A group of experts at the Universidad de Chile is developing a new therapy that can alleviate the effects of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the part of the brain that is in charge of movement and which still has no cure. Currently close to 4 million people around the world suffer from it.

Basically, the Chilean doctors’ research consists in extracting cells, which are then manipulated in a laboratory and enriched with two enzymes that protect the neurons specializing in muscular movement from dying. After this process the cells are injected directly into the affected part of the brain.

In this way, pluripotent cells can be used to protect dopaminergic neurons from death. The treatment is still in the experimental phase and the next step consists in testing it on laboratory rats.

The therapy

The procedure involves recovering fibroblasts, considered the least specialized cells in the conjunctive tissue, which can be obtained from a simple scratch of the skin. For the same reason, the most novel thing about the treatment is that donors are not needed; just the tissue obtained from the patients themselves. This will also allow the elimination of immunosuppressive therapies since only a single source of biological material will be involved.

Once in the laboratory the cells have transcription factors introduces so they can become pluripotent cells. In other words, those with the capacity to be transformed into different types of cells when given a specific stimulus, such as dopaminergic neurons, cardiomyocytes and muscle cells, among others.

In this specific case, they will be turned into dopaminergics, which will have two neuroprotector enzymes added to them: DT-diaphorase and Glutathione transferase N2.

“This surgery has been undertaken overseas but using fetal cells, which has produced problems with  transplant rejection. The new technique frees us of these complications and represents a therapeutic option for people who are much deteriorated and who do not have pharmacological alternatives,” said Juan Segura-Aguilar, the Universidad de Chile doctor in charge of the research.

The specialist adds that these two enzymes do not work properly in Parkinson’s patients, which is why the doctors will introduce a gene to over-express these enzymes in the study before differentiating the pluripotent cells, so as to prevent toxicity and neuronal death.