June 18, 2013
Regenerating From Huntington’s Disease
Neurological disorders are hard to isolate and even harder to “cure” because of the sensitivity of the brain and the numerous different symptoms that can be shown. Many different neurological diseases show many of the same symptoms, which often makes them hard to diagnose. This is because many different systems within the brain are linked and interact when performing tasks. It’s for this reason, and maybe uneducated assumptions by the patient, that may cause the disease to progress to a point where slowing the process is the only possible treatment.
One of the newest methods of slowing, and maybe even stopping, Huntington’s disease is a new form of treatment that uses an adult form of neurogenesis. What this essentially means is that they are able to create a massive amount of new neurons to replace the neurons that were killed over the years. Dr. Steve Goldman discovered this system by studying canaries; yes, canaries! Canaries are able to do engage in a process that humans are unable to do, called adult neurogenesis.
When humans are born, they go through several stages of brain development. One of these stages is called neurogenesis. During this process, new cells are created and begin to populate the brain. These cells are then sent off to different parts of the brain and begin doing their specified functions. Over time, when the brain is fully developed, this process slows down drastically and begins to function more as a replacement process for neurons that die off. For those with Huntington’s disease, this process of replacement is completely turned off when they reach adulthood. What this does is it begins to impair specific parts of the brain. This eventually leads to motor problems, emotional instability, and cognitive impairment. As the disease progresses, those that live longer may have great trouble in performing simple tasks, such as getting dressed or even eating.
What Dr. Goldman has done is found a way to possibly turn that switch back on. His research in canaries has allowed him to follow the pathway that creates glial cells, which is a special form of cell found in the brain. By understanding how these cells are created, Dr. Goldman is able to track where they come from and how to turn this switch on again. When this switch is turned off, a protein becomes deficient and the brain is unable to regenerate the neurons that are lost. When this protein, called noggin, is replaced within the pathway, the brain is able to start to slowly regenerate these cells that are lost.
This research is very promising and shows great results in preliminary studies in mice. In the studies that have been done so far, mice that were treated with this new treatment involving noggin doubled in life expectancy when compared to those that were not given any treatment at all. They were able to perform this same treatment on different animals and found very similar results, showing that the research could be advanced to human beings.
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