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Novel gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease clears safety hurdle

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A closely-watched prototype therapy to inject corrective genes into the brain to treat Parkinson’s disease has cleared an important safety hurdle, doctors said Friday.

Tested on 15 volunteers with an advanced form of the degenerative nerve disease, the technique proved safe and the results were encouraging, they said.

The experiment aims to reverse the lack of a brain chemical called dopamine, which is essential for motor skills.

It entails tucking three genes into a disabled horse virus of the family lentiviruses.

The modified virus is then injected directly into a specialised area of the brain, where it infiltrates cells. In doing so, it delivers corrective pieces of DNA, prompting defective brain cells to once again start producing dopamine.

Called ProSavin, the British-designed treatment was authorised for tests on humans after it was tried on lab monkeys.

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It is being closely watched by specialists to see if it works better than conventional therapies — the veteran drug levodopa or electrical stimulation of the brain — or another experimental gene technique which uses a modified cold virus.

French neurosurgeon Stephane Palfi, who led the early-stage trial published in The Lancet, said 15 patients aged 48-65 were given the genes in one of three doses.

They developed better coordination and balance, had less muscle twitching and improved speech.

Assessed at least 12 months after the injection, “motor symptoms remained improved in all the patients,” Palfi said.

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“In those patients who were first operated upon, the improvement lasted up to four years.”

Improvements were “dose-related,” said Palfi — meaning the higher the dose, the greater the progress.

Beyond four years, though, improvements fell back as the disease advanced, he said.

In a commentary also published by The Lancet, researcher Jon Stoessl at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, said the treatment did not address non-motor problems also caused by the disease.

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Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease in which the patient loses muscle flexibility and coordination, and often develops involuntary twitches and tremors.

Non-motor symptoms include cognitive and behavioural problems which can “have a greater effect on quality of life than motor dysfunction,” Stoessl noted.

The disease affects about five million people, according to the report.

[Image: “Nurse Holding Kind Elderly Lady’s Hands In Bed” via Shutterstock]

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Lawrence O’Donnell throttles Donny Deutsch for saying Elizabeth Warren can’t beat Trump: ‘This is pure guesswork’

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Lawrence O'Donnell and Donny Deutsch had quite the exchange in the post-debate conversation on MSNBC Wednesday.

Deutsch tried to say that Sen. Elizabeth Warren's outstanding debate performance doesn't matter because Warren can't win in a match-up against President Donald Trump.

"I do not believe Elizabeth Warren, on stage with Donald Trump, beats him," he told the MSNBC panel. "And I think if we're honest with ourselves and we look hard at ourselves, I think a lot of people agree with me. It's — and I also think when you can label somebody a socialist, 57 percent of this country thinks that word is un-American. I'm not saying it's fair. When he can blanket Elizabeth Warren as a socialist, and he's on stage with her, the Democrats lose."

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Father and daughter drowning at the border fuels anger at Trump immigration policies

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A shocking photograph of a Salvadoran man and his baby daughter drowned in the Rio Grande fueled a surge of emotion around the world Wednesday -- as US Democrats furiously denounced Donald Trump's immigration policies.

"Trump is responsible for these deaths," said Beto O'Rourke, one of several Democratic White House hopefuls who took to Twitter to lash out at the president.

Former vice president Joe Biden, who is also seeking the presidency in 2020, called the image "gut-wrenching."

"History will judge how we respond to the Trump administration's treatment of immigrant families & children -- we can't be silent," he said.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren leads Democrats in spirited first 2020 debate

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Ten Democrats clashed in the first debate of the 2020 presidential race Wednesday with Elizabeth Warren cementing her status as a top-tier candidate and several underdogs using the issue of immigration to clamor for the limelight.

The biggest American political debate since the 2016 presidential campaign is occurring over two nights in Miami, climaxing Thursday with former vice president Joe Biden squaring off against nine challengers, including number two candidate Bernie Sanders.

But Wednesday's first take was a spirited encounter between Democrats like ex-congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Cory Booker, former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on subjects as varied as health care, economic inequality, climate action, gun violence, Iran and immigration.

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