A new drug could revolutionize the treatment of neurological disorders
Scientists have identified a new class of cells that can help protect neurons from infection and tumors. This, in turn, offers a potential alternative to treatments for existing disease-causing agents and the use of drug-eluting patches.
“For decades, medics have been fascinated by the chemical properties of these new cells, and wondered whether they might be useful in chronic neurodegenerative diseases,” said Boris Buzonski, Ph.D., an assistant professor of the William Leonard College of Medicine in Pittsburgh, Pa. “Our research offers a very rich opportunity to understand the mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disease and their potential for the treatment of a variety of neurological disorders.”
Buzonski is an editor of the Journal of Neurodegenerative Diseases, a peer-reviewed publication from the Society for Neuroscience.
The finding is significant because, for most of the past 30 years, research on cells in the body has focused on proteins in the brain, particularly a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or EGFR2. EGFR2 is important for neuronal and cell function and kills mice that are genetically prone to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. But in humans, EGFR2 has been shown to be an independent target for disease in numerous neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, Crohn’s, diabetes, schizophrenia, epilepsy, cancer, and diseases of the central nervous system, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, and motor neuron disease.
In 2012, Buzonski and his colleagues at UCLA’s Watson Institute for International Studies – an affiliate of the Instituto de Informatización, Cronauto, Innovacion, and Research on Biological and Scientific Problems – showed that the cells called postreceptor microspheres in the sphincter of the pancreas in mice could be a goldmine for new targets for therapies for neurodegenerative diseases.
Three years later, another team led by Buzonski and his colleagues identified a second class of cells found in the sphincter of the pancreas, microspheres 36 (MPR36). In a new study published in October in the journal Nature Medicine, they showed that MPR36 cells might allow the cells to function normally in response to infection and to proliferate without restricting their numbers.
In this part of the body, any number of cell types can use the spinal cord and the kidneys as a feeding and drainage source. And the nerve cells are there in response to infection, just like the pancreas does when infected by bacteria.
“We have been able to find cells capable of this regeneration,” Buzonski said. “This observation is of immense importance to therapeutics because it opens up a new frontier to studies in neurodegenerative diseases, all of which require a low-cost therapy to be effective.”