An encouraging new study into Parkinson's has successfully converted brain cells to replace the ones lost in the disease.
Carried out in both human cells in a test tube, and mouse cells in live mice, the pioneering study published in Nature Biotechnology 'reprograms' astrocytes – the star-shaped glial cells found in the brain and spinal cord – to become dopamine-producing cells to replace the lost neurotransmitter chemical.
Parkinson's kills off dopamine-producing neurons, so if it proves successful and safe in live humans (which is a fair way down the road), the new technique could effectively heal the brain. In mice, the treatment was shown to "correct some aspects of motor behaviour" – movement issues, in other words – including problems with walking.
The BBC reports that previous studies injected new dopamine-producing neurons directly into the brain, while the new one recreates cells that can produce it themselves. They're not exactly the same as the lost cells, but nonetheless symptoms did seem to lessen as a result.
It's early days, but this is good news for mice and men. [BBC]