A major worldwide breakthrough in gene therapy was signalled last night after injections into the brain were used for the first time to successfully treat a degenerative brain disease.
In a pioneering study, researchers used the treatment to bring about significant improvements in the mobility of Parkinson's sufferers. They said it could also herald a breakthrough in the treatment of other neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's or epilepsy.
The study, begun in 2003, was carried out on 11 men and one woman with an average age of 58, who had all had severe Parkinson's for at least five years and for whom current therapies were no longer effective.
They were given injections of billions of copies of a genetically altered virus into part of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus.
The altered virus carried the human gene for an enzyme, called GAD, which helps to make GABA. Once implanted, brain cells of the patients started to make the GABA chemical.