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Study Finds Promising Screening Test for Parkinson’s Disease

Update Date: Aug 28, 2013 12:59 PM EDT

One of the reasons why neurodegenerative diseases are hard to combat is due to the lack of good screening methods. Without these screening tools, doctors can only treat patients once symptoms show up. If the symptoms progress too fast, the patient's quality of life can be reduced significantly. In a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, they found very promising results from a new test that could potentially detect Parkinson's disease before symptoms start.

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system. The onset of the disease is caused by the death of cells located in the substantia nigra, which is a part of the midbrain. Symptoms include tremors in the fingers, chin or lip, a loss of smell, or a very stiff facial expression. For this study, the research team worked with the five-year long Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). At the beginning of the experiment, the researchers performed spinal taps on 102 patients from PPMI in order to check their cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid exists as the liquid cushion between the brain and spinal cord. Of the participants, 63 had early and untreated Parkinson's disease and 39 did not have the condition. The researchers compared the fluids from the two sets of patients and focused their research on five protein biomarkers. The biomarkers are amyloid beta, total tau, phosphorylated tau, alpha synucleain and the ratio of total tau to amyloid beta.

The researchers found that participants with early signs of Parkinson's had lower levels of motor dysfunction. These patients also had lower amounts of tau and alpha synuclein. For patients with muscles that froze frequently and had problems walking, they had lower levels of amyloid beta and tau. The researchers hope that these biomarkers could potentially help with early detection of Parkinson's disease.

"Parkinson's disease is very complex and varies from person to person. One of the biggest challenges to improving care and finding better treatments is the lack of a biomarker that can diagnose the disease and predict its progression," commented Beth Vernaleo, the senior manager of research programs for the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Vernaleo was not a part of the study. "Although additional research is needed, by demonstrating that cerebrospinal fluid may in fact be a biomarker for Parkinson's disease, this study brings us closer to our goals of diagnosing Parkinson's disease earlier and developing individualized treatment plans."

The study was published in JAMA Neurology.

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