Studies suggest that neurotrophic factors, which play a role in the development and survival of neurons, have significant therapeutic and restorative potential for neurologic diseases such as Huntington's disease. However, clinical applications are limited because these proteins cannot easily cross the blood-brain barrier, have a short half-life, and cause serious side effects. Now, a group of scientists has successfully treated neurological symptoms in laboratory rats by implanting a device to deliver a genetically engineered neurotrophic factor directly to the brain. The scientists report on their results in the May 31, 2012 issue of Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience. Researchers used Encapsulated Cell (EC) biodelivery, a platform which can be applied using conventional minimally invasive neurosurgical procedures to target deep brain structures with therapeutic proteins. "Our study adds to the continually increasing body of preclinical and clinical data positioning EC biodelivery as a promising therapeutic delivery method for larger biomolecules. It combines the therapeutic advantages of gene therapy with the well-established safety of a retrievable implant," says lead investigator Dr. Jens Tornøe, NsGene A/S, Ballerup, Denmark. Investigators made a catheter-like device consisting of a hollow fiber membrane encapsulating a polymeric "scaffold," which provides a surface area to which neurotrophic factor-producing cells can attach. When implanted in the brain, the membrane allows the neurotrophic factor to flow out of the device, as well as allowing nutrients in. Dr. Tornøe and his colleagues used the neurotrophic factor Meteorin, which plays a role in the development of striatal projection neurons, whose degeneration is a hallmark of Huntington's disease.
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