A team from Chinese University reports promising results, despite some scepticism Chinese herbal medicines may hold the key to solving Parkinson's disease, raising hope for 7,000 local patients and four million around the world who suffer with the incurable degenerative disease. Chan Hsiao-chang, a biologist at Chinese University, and her research team discovered that combining two popular medicines - ginseng and Angelica Sinensis - with eight other herbs could help to repair damaged neuronal cells and restore the production of dopamine, a chemical that helps to transmit messages in the brain. Professor Chan said that without dopamine, the signals from the brain are unable to get through to the various muscles of the body, so muscular functions are impaired. The team strongly believes the Chinese medicines could help to repair cells and cure Parkinson's disease at gene level instead of simply relieving the symptoms as done by the western drugs. But Professor Chan has refused to disclose the other eight ingredients until the university has applied for a patent, which is expected to be completed in six months. 'Our focus is not to single out a single chemical compound that cures Parkinson's disease because we believe a combined use of herbs rather than one single ingredient creates the healing effect,' Professor Chan said. Ho Shu-leong, neurology professor at the University of Hong Kong and a consultant doctor at Queen Mary Hospital, said there was no known drug proven to work in clinical trials in Parkinson's disease. 'However, there are many compounds, natural and synthetic, that have neuroprotective effects, shown on cell culture and animal models of Parkinson's disease. These compounds include existing drugs and perhaps even some Chinese herbs,' Dr Ho said. Tsoi Tak-hong, a neurology specialist at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, said he was sceptical about the effectiveness of Chinese herbs in curing the disease. 'I am aware Chinese medicines are more for the purpose of restoring internal balance of the body rather than eradicating diseases. Personally, it is difficult for me to believe Chinese herbs can cure Parkinson's disease,' Dr Tsoi said. He estimated there were about 7,000 Parkinson's disease sufferers in Hong Kong, with five to 10 per cent developing the disease at or below age 40 - a similar rate to victims overseas. He said the causes of the disease remained uncertain, but doctors believed both genetic and environmental factors played a role. Drugs and surgery could control the symptoms but there was no cure. According to the chief executive of the Association of Hong Kong and Kowloon Practitioners of Chinese Medicines, Tse Ping-chung, ginseng has an invigorating effect while Angelica Sinensis is effective in restoring blood to a healthy state. He said both herbs were common supplements for healthy people but might not be suitable for sick people.