Finnish doctors say they have identified a new protein that, in rats, rescues brain cells whose death causes Parkinson's disease, the tragic degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.
The new molecule, called conserved dopamine neurotrophic factor (CDNF), prevents the degeneration of cells that produce the key brain chemical dopamine and can even help damaged cells to recover.
Tested on lab rodents engineered to have Parkinson's, CDNF "was at least as efficient" as GDNF (glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor), which until now has generated the most excitement in this field, they say.
The findings are published on Thursday in a letter to Nature, the British science journal, by a team led by Mart Saarma of the University of Finland.
Parkinson's causes uncontrollable shaking, along with impaired speech and movement. In approximately one third of cases it also results in dementia. The disease affects at least one percent of people over the age of 65.
Dopamine, which helps direct movement, is provided in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra.
Attempts to treat Parkinson's have focussed mainly on a pharmaceutical substitute for dopamine or on restoring or protecting dopamine-producing cells.