Following recent research carried out at by Cambridge University, a company in Austria has begun trials of a vaccine which may eventually be able to prevent the progression of Parkinson's disease.
A Rogue Protein
The research has isolated a protein, known as alpha-synuclein, which could be the main culprit in the disease. This protein is thought to become abnormally shaped, in what is known as a prion, due to the absorption of toxins through the bowel.
Over the years, these prions affect other proteins, which also change shape, and travel through the nervous system, eventually damaging the dopamine making centres of the mid brain.
Early Symptoms May Hold the Key
It is now believed that the initial protein trigger may occur 10-20 years before the onset of the tremors and slowness of movement which are the main symptoms of Parkinson's.
In this case, it may be possible to develop a vaccine which would be alert to these protein changes, and would prevent the protein from travelling through the nervous system.
Many Parkinson's patients report symptoms such as loss of smell, difficulty sleeping or bowel issues in the decades before they then go on to develop the disease, but only now has a connection been made between these earlier symptoms and the later onset of Parkinson's.
A Ray of Hope
It's not the first time prions have been implicated in neurological disorders; these rogue proteins were thought to be connected to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the 1980s.
However, this is the first time it has been thought possible to develop a way of catching these proteins early in the disease progress.
Researchers are keen to stress that the potential vaccine is still at the very early stages.
With this being the biggest breakthrough so far in the fight against Parkinson's, however, sufferers and their families perhaps have good reason to be optimistic.