| GEO Health|
New tests can discover future Parkinson's disease
| Updated at: 1102 PST, Tuesday, September 28, 2010|
OTTAWA: Researchers believe they have identified key markers that may indicate whether a patient is at risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease.
Currently Parkinson's patients are generally diagnosed through the assessment of physical symptoms, by which time the disease is already well advanced.
Scientists speaking at the World Parkinson's Congress in Glasgow this week will, however, reveal new research that has identified a series of proteins in the blood and spinal fluid which could provide an early warning of the disease.
It is hoped the findings will lead to a test that can be used to screen people for the early signs of the condition.
Dr Michael Schlossmacher, a neuroscientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, will reveal research on a protein known as alpha-synuclein which is found at elevated levels in the spinal fluid of Parkinson's patients.
He said: "At the moment when we look at around 100 people with Parkinson's, around 75 to 77 of them will have higher levels of alpha-synuclein. We are hoping to find the equivalent of bad cholesterol in heart disease for parkinsons in terms of a risk factor. Alpha-synuclein is one of the best candidates.
"We may be able to take a sample of the cerebral spinal fluid from a spinal tap and do a test to see if someone is developing Parkinson's disease."
Another protein called LRRK2 has also been linked with an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease and is currently one of a number of other markers being investigated as part of a major study in the US funded by the Michael J Fox Foundation.
Dr Caroline Tanner, who leads the project as director of clinical research at the Parkinson's Institute in California, said: "There is pretty good evidence that begins years before other clinical symptoms emerge.
"Early intervention could help slow or halt the disease progress and so prevent the cognitive decline."
Parkinson's UK, which funds research into the disease, is also preparing to launch a major new study that will compare the blood and spinal fluid of Parkinson's patients and their families over time in the hope of spotting changes that occur as Parkinson's develops.
Dr Keiran Breen, director of research at Parkinson's UK, said: "The new study we have proposed will look at trying to identify markers that will give us an indication of someone's potential risk of getting Parkinson's.
"By following patients as soon as they are diagnosed we can look for the biological changes that occur as the disease develops. Also, in a small number of Parkinson's patients, members of their family also go on to develop Parkinson's so by monitoring family members we may see other changes taking place.
"If we can identify it at an early stage in patients then we can use drugs to shut down its progress."