Scientists are currently working on a new treatment for Parkinson’s sufferers using a genetically modified strain of an equine virus.

Details of this new treatment were revealed earlier this week and human trials are expected to begin early next year. The company behind the work is called Oxford Biomedica and was founded by British professors Alan and Susan Kingsman.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disease affecting the brain and nervous system and occurs when the brain loses its ability to produce dopamine-producing cells. Victims of the disease suffer from tremors, muscular rigidity and slow uncoordinated movement.

Current treatment involves the use of synthesised dopamine but this can cause severe side-effects The company hopes that by using a modified virus derived from equine infectiousanaemia (EIA) it can deliver natural dopamine directly into a patient’s brain.

Scientists have engineered EIA to remove a large fraction of the virus so it is capable of delivering the therapeutic gene without reproducing a replication of the virus.

EIA belongs to the group of viruses known as lentiviruses and trials have so far shown that modified strains of EIA cause limited harm to humans. They are perfectly evolved to carry the dopamine into human brain cells, and because nerve cells are long lasting, treatment may not need to be repeated.