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25 November 2010

Breakthrough in Dutch Research on Parkinson’s Disease

Nerve cells in the brain can be forced to grow in a specific direction and thus help repair a poorly functioning nervous system. Researchers discovered this in a Top Institute Pharma research project. This discovery can be of great importance for newly developing treatments for Parkinson’s disease, which affects the nerve cells in the central nervous system. The finding is an important breakthrough and will be published this month in the well-respected Journal of Neuroscience.

Nerve cells are the signal processors in the brain that regulate a large number of bodily functions including movement and mental capacity. To do this, nerve cells require neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Neuroscientist Jeroen Pasterkamp, who works at the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht and is one of the researchers on this project said: “Parkinson’s disease damages the nerve cells that produce dopamine. Because of this, the nerve cells cannot communicate with other parts of the brain; more and more of the cells’ links are lost.” This causes patients with Parkinson’s to lose control of their muscles.

According to Pasterkamp it is currently possible to inject new dopamine producing nerve cells into the brain (cell therapy), but this treatment has not yet been successful. “The nerve cells must be placed exactly in the right places and the cells’ axons, the nerve fibers that transport nerve impulses, must also grow in the right direction to allow the nervous system to function properly. We have now found proteins that push the nerve fibers in the right direction; the proteins essentially steer the cells. These can be extremely important for developing new therapies to fight the disease.”

It is estimated that 50,000 people in the Netherlands are affected by Parkinson’s, the cause of which is still unknown. In addition to the UMC Utrecht, DNage and Abbott are also participating in TI Pharma’s research.

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Chief Scientific Officer
Medicines for Malaria Venture

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