A high-tech brain implant that gives new life to damaged neurones could prevent the progression of Parkinson's disease, scientists say. The implant encourages cells damaged by the disease to grow again, transforming the lives of people living with Parkinson's disease. Lead researchers, neurologist Dr Alan Whone and neurosurgeon Professor Steven Gill at Frenchay Hospital, Bristol are investigating the potential of a promising protein called glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). Their research is building on the success of an initial safety trial with 6 people with Parkinson's. The promising study investigates whether infusing GDNF directly into the brain using a specially designed delivery port could help to improve symptoms - such as stiffness, slowness of movement and tremor - and slow down the spread of the condition. "One of the biggest problems facing many researchers in the past has been finding a way to get past the blood/brain barrier, which prevents materials from blood entering the brain," Gill said. "We have developed a new way to bypass this barrier, and deliver the protein directly, by infusion, to the areas of the brain where cells die in Parkinson's. "We are hopeful that this will promote restoration of the dying neurones responsible for the symptoms of the disease," said Gill. The initial safety phase carried out with six patients has assessed the device and the delivery system.
The safety results from that mean that scientists are now ready to move into the main phase of the trial, researchers said. "For the next stage of the trial we will need 36 volunteers, some of whom will receive GDNF, and some of whom will receive a placebo 'dummy' treatment for comparison, to take part" researchers said. Parkinson's develops when a lack of a chemical called dopamine, causes nerve cells within the brain to die. Previous research studies have suggested that GDNF has the potential to encourage these cells to grow again - in effect stopping the progression of Parkinson's.