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Swiss scientists develop gene therapy for Parkinson's disease

The new treatment might make it possible to prevent Parkinson's.

(Brain Imaging Center, University of California)

An international team of researchers, including scientists from Lausanne, has developed a gene therapy technique, which offers new hope to people with Parkinson's disease.

The team's findings were presented in Friday's edition of the journal, "Science".

The researchers say tests done on monkeys suggest it may be possible to prevent the onset of Parkinson's in patients with early symptoms of the disease.

"We are able to stop the disease in its tracks and to keep it from progressing," said Jeffrey Kordower, an American neurologist, who is one of the authors of the report.

Parkinson's is a progressive and incurable disease, which destroys cells in the brain that produce dopamine, an important chemical linked with movement. Symptoms include trembling, slow and stiff movement of limbs, speech difficulties and a loss of balance.

In their experiments, two researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Patrick Aebischer and Nicole Deglon, manipulated a virus to carry a gene for a brain chemical, which prompts the production of dopamine.

The virus was then injected into the brains of the monkeys. Autopsies later showed the gene had triggered the manufacture of dopamine in the brain, thereby halting the degeneration of brain cells.

Kordower says the beneficial effects of the treatment lasted for months and relieved symptoms of the disease, which affects up to 1.5 million people in the United States alone.

Another study in monkeys is underway to test the safety of the gene therapy. According to Kordower, it could be three to five years before the treatment is ready for testing on humans.

swissinfo with agencies

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