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Researchers Uncover New Biological Marker for Parkinson’s

Update Date: Sep 20, 2013 12:05 PM EDT

Parkinson's disease is hard to treat because there are not many effective screening tools to detect it. Once the illness hits, the symptoms progress relatively quickly and using current drug options might not always be effective in slowing down the disease. On top of that, there is also no cure for Parkinson's, which is why researchers have continuously searched for new indicators of the disease. By identifying biomarkers, people with Parkinson's could ideally be diagnosed earlier and then treated more efficiently. In a new study, researchers from Nottingham reported that they have found a new biological indicator of Parkinson's.

For this study, the research team from the University of Nottingham and Nottingham University Hospital NHS Trust utilized new and very sensitive brain imaging techniques to examine how Parkinson's progresses in the brain. The researchers already know that Parkinson's is caused by the death of nerve cells produced by dopamine in the brain. Once these nerve cells deteriorate, the body's motor skills starts to become impaired. Current screening tests using imaging technology are very expensive and do not monitor the disease's progression.

The researchers then proceeded to use a 7T MRI scanner, which is a more powerful machine. They discovered a teardrop-like structure on the brain scans of the healthy participants. This teardrop was not noticeable in the brain scans of people with Parkinson's. The researchers believe that the teardrop could be another marker for Parkinson's.

"So this was a breakthrough discovery in that we now know that using this particularly sensitive MRI scanner, we can see that patients living with Parkinson's disease don't have this particular feature in their brain," the head investigator, Professor Penny Gowland, a physics professor based at the University's Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Center, said according to Medical Xpress. "We are now conducting a study of patients with Parkinson's to ascertain when this mark actually disappears, which could potentially have huge implications for early diagnosis of the illness, and subsequently how it is treated."

The study was published in Neurology.

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