Dec 242011
Parkinson's disease

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EXPERTS in Cambridge have made a breakthrough in the battle against Parkinson’s Disease.

Scientists from Cambridge University are developing a new therapy which they hope will slow down or even halt the damage caused by the disease.

Their research has proved successful so far in rats, and they are now looking at the possibility of human trials.

The therapy involves using the natural processes in the body that protect mitochondria, the energy-producing powerhouse that keeps cells alive while they replicate.

Prof John Sinclair and colleagues at the Department of Medicine have been studying how viruses such as herpes seek to survive and replicate in the body. When a virus invades a cell, a tiny component of the virus called the Beta2.7 gene guards the mitochondria from damage for about five days, so that the virus can replicate and spread from cell to cell.

About 120,000 people in the UK have Parkinson’s, and numbers are expected to rise as the average age of the population increases. The disease is caused by the loss of nerve cells in the brain. It is not known why these cells die, but when they do, people affected experience problems with walking and moving quickly.

Treatment currently centres on drugs, which cannot stop the disease, and can have side-effects.

In looking at how the virus gene functions, Prof Sinclair spotted the potential for harnessing its protective function to help cells survive attack by diseases such as Parkinson’s. He has been working with Prof Roger Barker and a team at the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair to see if the discovery can be taken forward.

The researchers said there was still a long way to go before clinical trials can be started.

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