YourNewsNow - Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually, and often starts with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand. While tremors may be the most well-known sign of Parkinson's disease, the disorder also commonly causes a slowing or freezing of movement.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there's no cure for Parkinson's disease, but medications can help control some of the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, and in some cases, surgery may be helpful.
A small region deep within the brain is the source for the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. When brain neurons in that region of the brain begin to die, the cells can no longer manufacture the molecule dopamine -- a chemical critical for controlling movement.
The exact cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role, including genes. Researchers have found specific genetic mutations that likely play a role in Parkinson's disease. In addition, scientists suspect that many more changes in genes -- whether inherited or caused by an environmental exposure -- may be responsible for Parkinson's disease. Exposure to toxins or certain viruses may trigger Parkinson's signs and symptoms.
For the first time, gene therapy has proven successful in Parkinson's patients. The therapy uses a virus that is stripped of its infectious properties and delivered with a thin tube into the brain's subthalamic nucleus -- a structure "the size of a pine nut" that is involved with movement.
Researchers followed 45 patients for six months after the procedure at seven U.S. medical centers. Half the patients showed improvements early on, which they still sustained six months later.
Most current therapies and research approaches target dopamine to treat motor symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease. In contrast, the focus of the current gene therapy strategy is on increasing GABA -- a brain neurotransmitter that regulates movement.
In Parkinson's disease, GABA is reduced in the area of the brain known as the subthalamic nucleus, causing it to be overactive. Investigators feel this might be a better way to help advanced Parkinson's disease. (SOURCE: Henry Ford Health System)