A Taiwanese medical team said on Wednesday it has made a breakthrough in identifying a gene that causes a degenerative disorder of the nervous system.
The findings could lead to new medical treatments for the genetic disease: cerebellar atrophy type 22, the team of researchers from Taipei Veterans General Hospital and National Yang-Ming University said.
“We’re happy to make the discovery of a gene that causes that particular type of cerebellar atrophy,” hospital doctor Soong Bing-wen (宋秉文) said.
The team is now conducting further research on cells and animals with the aim of finding a cure for the disease, he said.
Cerebellar atrophy usually causes unsteadiness and lack of coordination in the movements of patients. Walking usually becomes difficult as the disease progresses.
One of the people involved in the study is an 82-year-old man who began having trouble walking at the age of 45. He also began to lose his ability to speak clearly and would often choke on his drinks.
About 10 of his relatives also have balance problems and have gradually developed other symptoms related to the disease. They consulted a number of doctors, but could not find the cause of the problem.
Since he sought medical attention at the Taipei Veterans General Hospital more than a decade ago, the man said his condition has now been brought under control.
At present, there are more than 40 known types of cerebellar atrophy, Soong said. However, in more than 30 percent of the cases, the cause of the disease cannot been identified.
According to the medical team, the incidence of cerebellar atrophy worldwide is five to 10 people out of every 100,000.
The findings of the Taiwanese researchers were published in the Annals of Neurology journal on July 23.