NHS Researchers Develop Brain Implant Offering Parkinson’s Hope

The latest in a series tech and biotech developments offering hope of a breakthrough in more effective treatment of Parkinson’s and other degenerative brain diseases is recent trials of brain implant technology. The implant, designed to deliver drugs from a ‘port’ located behind the ear that bypasses the ‘blood-brain barrier’, has been developed by Bristol-based NHS researchers.

The implant has been developed to deliver a new drug called GDNF, which it is hoped will be clinically proven to promote new nerve growth in dopamine brain cells, which are gradually destroyed by Parkinson’s. However, the device could also be used to deliver other treatments. It’s currently in trials for the delivery of chemotherapy treatment for children suffering from brain cancer.

Initial trials of the device for the delivery of GDFN have, however, delivered a mix of positives and negatives. A 35-patient trial that split those fitted with the implant between GDFN treatment and a placebo over 9-months, followed by another 9-months where all were given GDFN, failed to show any difference between the reaction of the two groups. Both groups showed improvements against an expected benchmark of deterioration over the first 9 months of treatment with those given the drug not responding better than those on the placebo.

However, despite the disappointing initial findings, the trial was not a complete failure. Patients given GDFN did display the results of a ‘biological effect’ from the drug. Brain scans showed that dopamine cells in patients in the non-placebo group were growing new nerve endings. That was not the case for those in the placebo group.

The team behind the trial believes that represents enough evidence to suggest its failure can be put down to the way it was designed and that new trials are likely to be successful. Principal investigator Dr Alan Whone commented:

“This represents some of the most compelling evidence yet that we may have a means to possibly reawaken and restore the dopamine brain cells that are gradually destroyed in Parkinson’s.”

As life expectancies increase in the developed world, degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s are on the rise. As many as 2 out of every 100 people in the UK are expected to develop the condition. That has added renewed urgency to research into treatments and the latest biotechnology breakthroughs, many supported by AI algorithms able to find patterns in big data previously hidden to human analysts, are beginning to offer hope. Experts believe that treating and hopefully eventually being able to cure Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases is most likely to come from a combination of personalised treatments rather than one ‘silver bullet’.

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