Tiny capsules planted in the brain might be able to fend off the disabling symptoms of Huntington's disease, a study in monkeys suggests.
The capsules pump out a substance that protects brain cells. In the monkeys they sharply reduced the damage from a poison that kills the same brain cells that die in Huntington's.
A study in people will begin this year in Europe to test the safety of the approach, said Jeffrey Kordower of the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago.
The results were presented in today's issue of the journal Nature by researchers including Kordower and scientists from CytoTherapeutics of Providence, R.I.
Allan Tobin, scientific director of the Hereditary Disease Foundation, which focuses on Huntington's, called the work exciting but highly experimental.
"I'm very concerned that this not be taken as a proof that this kind of therapy will work in humans," Tobin said. "All of this is still at a very preliminary stage."
About 30,000 Americans have Huntington's disease, which is caused by a faulty gene. It erodes concentration and memory and causes twitching, clumsiness and difficulty in walking, speaking and swallowing. The disease grows relentlessly worse and no known treatment can slow it down.