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Huntington's slowed by swapping sick cells for healthy ones, study says

Mice with the disease treated with healthy human glial cells displayed improvements on tests of behavioral, cognitive and motor skills.

By Stephen Feller
Huntington's slowed by swapping sick cells for healthy ones, study says
In a series of samples, pictured, human glial cells, in red, are seen outcompeting sick cells, in red, in the brains of mice with Huntington's disease. Researchers report mice treated with human glial cells showed improvement in their conditions, according to a new study. Photo by University of Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn., June 8 (UPI) -- Researchers may have found a new method for treating Huntington's disease after injecting healthy cells into the brains of mice with the disease, they report in a new study.

Replacing sick cells with healthy ones instigated brain activity in the rodents and slowed both the disease and its symptoms, report researchers at the University of Rochester.

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Huntington's disease is a hereditary neurodegenerative disease resulting in the loss of nerve cells in the brain crucial to medium spiny neurons with a role in motor control, and there is no way to slow or stop the disease before death.

Damage to the brain mostly occurs in the striatum. Medium spiny neurons die in that region of the brain because of the disease, altering nearby glial cells called astrocytes and causing them to function improperly.

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"The partial rescue of deficiencies we observed in this study tells us that there is a significant glia component in Huntington's disease and that we may be able to improve function and delay progression with glial transplants," Dr. Steve Goldman, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester, said in a press release.

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For the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers injected healthy human glial cells into the brains of mice with Huntington's disease, finding the new cells often kept neurons healthy and extended their survival.

In terms of behavior, memory and motor skills, mice treated with human glial skills also performed better on tests than untreated mice with the disease.

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"The role that glia cells play in the progression of Huntington's disease has never really been explored," Goldman said. "This study shows that these cells are not only important actors in the disease, but may also hold the key to new treatment strategies."

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