Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have begun researching the delivery of neurotropic factors to the brain as a potential therapeutic for Parkinson’s disease. To this end the team, led by Elena Batrakova, an associate professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery, has essentially developed smarter immune cells.
Currently, there are no treatments that can stop or reverse Parkinson’s hallmark loss of neurons. However, one potential therapy is the development of smarter immune cells that deliver neurotropic factors to neurons damaged by the disease. Batrakova and her team genetically modified white blood cells, called macrophages, to produce and deliver glial cell-line derived neurotropic factor (GDNF) to the brain. GDNF is known to act as a protective protein in the brain that can stimulate the growth and healing of damaged neurons. In the study, GDNF alleviated neuroinflammation and reversed neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease model mice. One suggested mechanism of activity is that these cells, after administer to the mice, travel to the brain and release these neurotropic factors in small packages celled exosomes. These packages, containing the expressed protein, efficiently and effectively transport the proteins to the target neurons.
Delivering the protective proteins through immune cells is a breakthrough in GDFP therapy. This new macrophage mediated protein delivery system could potentially provide a therapy for patients who are afflicted by this debilitating disease.