Incurable neurological diseases: Moving toward treatments
Written by Jennifer Huizen on November 6, 2020 — Fact checked by Hannah Flynn, MS
Nerve damage from neurodegenerative conditions, traumatic injuries, and certain eye conditions leads to disability and death for millions of people in the United States. Currently, doctors consider such damage irreversible.
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However, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have discovered a new type of human immune cell that appears to prevent and reverse nerve damage in the optic nerve and spinal cord.
This finding could allow researchers to create more advanced neurodegenerative immunotherapies.
These therapies might offer fresh hope to people with currently incurable neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. They might also help treat central nervous system (CNS) damage from injury or infection.
“I treat patients who have permanent neurological deficits, and they have to deal with debilitating symptoms every day, “says Dr. Benjamin Segal, professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State College of Medicine and co-director of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Neurological Institute.
“So the idea of being able to restore neurological function and take that burden away from my patients is really amazing.”
Funded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Wings of Life Foundation (C.Y.), and the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Research Foundation, the study appears in the journal Nature Immunology.
The emerging field of immunotherapy
Immunotherapy therapies alter the immune response by stimulating it or using the body’s own immune cells to treat disease. Over the past few decades, scientists have begun developing them to tackle a wide range of medical conditions.
Doctors already use immunotherapies to treat certain types of cancer. They help the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
Other researchers are investigating whether immunotherapy could help prevent or treat neurological disease.
Researchers have been extensively testing immunotherapies that increase the clearance rate of certain proteins whose accumulation has links with neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, frontotemporal dementia, and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Scientists have already created T-cell mediated immunotherapy approaches that target proteins linked with these neurological diseases, such as amyloid-beta, tau, and alpha-synuclein proteins.
Immunotherapy may also present opportunities to prevent and treat nerve damage by activating alternative immune pathways in response to CNS damage.
A 2014 study found that anti-inflammatory or immunoregulating (M2) macrophages are critical for remyelination, which is a form of nerve repair.