Monday, June 27

We have spent decades trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s. A micro-implant just brought us a little closer

A Bristol hospital has unveiled a new breakthrough in the fight against Parkinson’s. The center has carried out the first tests of a new device for deep brain stimulation (DBS) treatment. It is a miniature version of existing devices, instruments that today are only used by 5% of Parkinson’s patients. The implant helps combat some of the effects of this disease, although it is not capable of curing it.

An short He passed.
Despite everything, the announced advance has great advantages. Until now, DBS required a double implant: on the one hand, the electrode, located in the brain, responsible for stimulating the affected areas and counteracting involuntary brain impulses; on the other, a pacemaker battery, which was located on the patient’s chest. The devices were linked by cables along the neck.

The new implant miniaturizes the system and makes it possible to be “docked” in the same skull of the patient. This has a notable advantage: it cuts in half the duration of the surgery required to implant the device.

Not for all patients.
Neurologist Alan Whone, one of those in charge of the trial, clarifies for the BBC that DBS treatment is not necessarily suitable for all Parkinson’s patients, but is aimed at the youngest, those who can best cope with brain surgery and who have not yet suffered memory loss.

What effects does Parkinson’s disease have on the brain?
Parkinson’s disease is a disease that affects in a progressive way that goes beyond the symptom with which it is frequently associated, tremors. The disease originates when the neurons responsible for generating dopamine lose the ability to do so. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a molecule responsible for transmitting information between neurons and is involved in very diverse processes, including our ability to move.

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Parkinson’s is therefore a disease that mainly affects this ability to move, so it not only causes tremors but also paralysis, and loss of balance and coordination. However, its symptoms can also include depression (since dopamine also has a very important role in this context), fatigue or sleep problems. In addition to the aforementioned memory loss.

Although most people with Parkinson’s begin to experience their symptoms after the age of 50, around one in 20 patients begin to manifest before the age of 50.

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The long history of neurostimulators.
Neurostimulators have a long history in the fight against Parkinson’s. The DBS mechanism itself has just turned 20 years since it was approved for use in Parkinson’s patients. It was at the time the culmination of a long development process that began in the 70s (or much earlier, depending on how you look at it).

Virtual therapy.
The usual ways to treat the disease can be divided into three groups: supportive therapies, medication and implants. A new and unexpected treatment could join the support therapies: virtual reality.

Other fights against Parkinson’s disease.
Experts seek to tackle this disease from different fronts and this is not the only advance that has been presented recently. A significant step in the fight to cure this disease was taken by a team in which the CSIC was represented. The loss of neurons capable of generating dopamine is due to the deterioration of their mitochondria, the part of the cell that provides its energy. The work they developed was based on the deletion of the Ndufs2 gene in mice, which unleashed problems in rodents, similar to those caused by the disease in humans.

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One of the latest advances was presented by the University of Arizona: converting non-neuronal cells into neurons capable of functioning in the brain, generating dopamine and thus allowing recovery of abilities affected by Parkinson’s. Another recent breakthrough was announced by researchers at the University of Geneva. A study similar to the one developed by CSIC scientists, but in this case focused on the Fer2 gene in flies and mice. The University of California at Los Angeles also recently presented advances based on the study of proteins linked to the degradation of neurons. Like the previous ones, this line of research is at an early stage of development.

We continue without a cure.
In 2012, the British team that today presents the new device worked on the development of treatments based on the GDNF protein (glial-derived neurotrophic factor). Today this line of research has not yet borne fruit in the development of an effective medication against this disease, although there are experts working on this track. The debate about this route is open in the scientific community.

Reasons for hope?
At the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, they show their optimism, and they do so based on (among other reasons) advances in the study of genes related to the disease and DBS therapies. They also point out the importance of early diagnoses and how advances to date have helped patients live longer and better. There is still a long way to go, but it should be borne in mind that the many advances made to date, although they have not managed to cure them, have helped millions of patients with this disease.

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Image | andrea picquadio

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