Old people with docNew research published in Nature Biotechnology shows that for the first time it may be possible to reprogramme cells inside the brain to reverse the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

The study, which was carried out in mice, demonstrates that a virus can deliver instructions to turn cells that are not lost in Parkinson’s into the type that are – potentially offering a new way to replace lost brain cells.

Parkinson’s is caused by the loss of dopamine producing brain cells. Dopamine is used to help the brain communicate messages about movement, but as these cells are lost the brain cannot control movement effectively. If successful, it would turn this approach into a viable therapy that could improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s and, ultimately, lead to the cure that millions are waiting for.

There are currently no treatments that can slow or stop Parkinson’s, but cell replacement could help to reverse the condition. Ongoing research in people with Parkinson’s is attempting to transplant pre-made cells into the right part of the brain. The study shows that astrocytes, a type of cell that supports other brain cells and is not affected in Parkinson’s, could be turned into dopamine-producing cells inside the brain. This could pave the way to replacing the cells lost in Parkinson’s without the need for a transplant.

Parkinson’s UK Deputy Director of Research David Dexter said: “Replacing the cells that are lost in Parkinson’s is a possible way to reverse its symptoms, and could one day be a cure for the condition. This research is hugely promising, as it offers a completely new way to replace cells that are lost in Parkinson’s. However, the location of the new cells created through this process could make it difficult to control the delivery of dopamine to the brain.

“Further development of this technique is now needed, so it encourages dopamine to be produced and released in a controlled manner, like the original brain cells. If successful, it would turn this approach into a viable therapy that could improve the lives of people with Parkinson’s and, ultimately, lead to the cure that millions are waiting for.”

Parkinson's UK has also launched its We Won't Wait campaign and released figures that show a lack of awareness of Parkinson's.

They said that 2017 marks 200 years since the pioneering surgeon James Parkinson first wrote about the condition in his 'Essay on the Shaking Palsy', but people with Parkinson's still don't have access to drugs which can stop, slow down or reverse the condition. The science is ready. New treatments are within our grasp, and we won't wait any longer for them.

New figures reveal a lack of awareness of the challenges people with Parkinson's face in trying to manage their condition. Despite being an incurable, degenerative condition which can affect anyone:

  • half (49%) of people are unsure, or wrongly say that it is possible to prevent Parkinson's
  • 4 in 5 (83%) are unsure, or incorrectly think that there is no limit to the amount of time Parkinson's medication works for
  • 3 in 5 (62%) wrongly believe that Parkinson's medication does more than mask or ease the symptoms of the condition

Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson's UK, said: "Parkinson's can leave people struggling to walk, talk and sleep. Today, we say we won't wait any longer. That's why Parkinson's UK is spearheading, with the expertise of the research community and the support of those living with Parkinson's, the step change needed to deliver better treatments and a cure faster. But we can't do this alone. That's why we're urgently asking people to donate, in our first ever public fundraising campaign, whatever they can to support our vital work. We won't tolerate Parkinson's treatments falling behind."