University of Rochester Researcher’s Finding May Lead to New Parkinson’s Treatment

Chris Proschel, Ph.D. from the Biomedical Genetics Department at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and his team of researchers have made an exciting discovery that may lead to a new way to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Using animal models, they found that manipulating certain support cells in the brain may help to repair the damage the disease does to a variety of other brain cells.

“One of the central challenges in Parkinson’s disease is that many different cell types are damaged, each of which is of potential importance,” said Dr. Proschel, lead author of the study which appeared in the European journal EMBO Molecular Medicine. “However, while we know that the collective loss of these cells contributes to the symptoms of the disease, much of the current research is focused on the recovery of only one cell type.”

Roughly one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder that disrupts basic signals in the brain and destroys several types of cells in the brain.

Using human brain cells, Dr. Proschel and his team isolated a cell population found in the central nervous system and manipulated them to produce cells that act like those in a developing brain. When they implanted those cells in rats with Parkinson’s disease, the cells appeared to have not only stopped further damage to brain cells, but also to have repaired different types of brain cells that had already been damaged, essentially reversing the effects of the disease. They also restored normal levels of a protein needed for communication between cells in the brain.

This discovery is promising in helping researchers identify new cell therapies for treating Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders.

“The central importance of this work is in revealing a potentially new cell therapy, for which appropriate human cells are in hand, that can be used to restore multiple neuronal populations and to rescue the molecular machinery critical in communication between nerve cells even when cells are transplanted after the damage is already established,” said Mark Noble, Ph.D., the director of the URMC Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute and a co-author of the study. “From what is already known about these cells, it seems likely that they offer a promising approach to a variety of neurological afflictions.”

Additional co-authors include Jennifer Stripay, Chung-Hsuan Shih, and Joshua Munger, all from URMC. In addition to private funding, the study received support from the New York State Stem Cell Science (NYSTEM) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

For more on the study, click here.