Chilean scientists work on novel Parkinson’s treatment

The research team has been developing a plan to inject a powerful protein directly into patients’ brains in a bid to protect them from the degenerative condition.


Scientists at Universidad de Chile are working on a new technique to combat Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative condition that affects over 4 million people worldwide but has no cure.

The plan developed by the Chilean researchers is to inject a small virus directly into the patient’s brain where it would transport a therapeutic protein to the affected neurons. While it may sound strange, viruses are increasingly being used in medical treatments as vehicles for smaller curative particles.

Approximately 1 per cent of people over the age of 55 suffer from the degenerative disease, which attacks the dopaminergic class of neurons that help regulate voluntary motor control.

“At the beginning, the condition exhibits itself through symptoms like sleeping difficulties or the loss of smell and then comes the stage when patients start to have impaired motor skills and they begin to shake when they are at rest,” microbiologist Dr. Garbriela Mercado told La Segunda.

“The disease continues to worsen over time until it affects the entire body. By that stage, patients are unable to move their bodies in a coordinated manner: they fall frequently, they can’t eat or swallow and they find it difficult to speak.”

The scientists have carried out a series of tests on mice, simulating Parkinson’s disease in the tests subjects by selectively impairing certain neurons. They then observed that a binding protein called XBP1 helped to restore balance in the affected neurons when injected into the mice, providing hope for people with Parkinson’s disease.

“This protein is fundamental for improving the health of the neurons and it also regulates many vital processes,” Dr. Claudio Hetz told La Segunda.

Hetz said the localized nature of the proposed treatment would benefit patients because it is simple and relatively noninvasive.

The groundbreaking research is being carried out with support from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and multinational biotechnology company Genzyme.