Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder. It slowly develops, often beginning with a slight tremor in the limbs. Other symptoms include slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture, and changes in speech and writing. The brains of people with Parkinson’s disease display Lewy bodies–clumps of substances within brain cells–and are markers for the disease.
Parkinson’s is caused by the impairment of neurons in an area of the brain that controls movement. Healthy neurons produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter or a chemical responsible for transmitting signals. The impaired neurons, however, are unable to produce normal levels of dopamine, resulting in movement problems in people with Parkinson’s disease.
Image Source: Science Photo Library – PASIEKA
In an attempt to restore the dopaminergic cells, researchers from Lund University and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have conducted a clinical study with twelve patients. They injected a growth factor called PDGF (platelet derived growth factor) in the brains of the patients in order to preserve the cells involved in the release of dopamine. In previous studies on animals with symptoms resembling Parkinson’s, PDGF was shown to have regenerative effects on neurons and nerve fibers and caused improvement in motor skills.
From the results of the clinical study, the use of PDGF has not been shown to cause any serious side effects. Furthermore, PET scans taken of the patients’ brains indicate that PDGF seems promising as a method to slow down and reverse the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The scans reveal that patients who were given PDGF had their dopamine signalling remain at the same level or even increase, restoring motor skills and neurons.
In Parkinson’s disease, patients lose nerve cells continuously, which means that we see signals indicating dopamine processing constantly decreasing. What we have seen is that the patients who received the highest dose did not have the same decrease in these signals as the placebo-treated patients. Instead, we have actually seen an increase in signaling here. This indicates that we may have managed to reverse this process which is obviously very exciting.
-Gesine Paul (First author of study)