The earlier someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the sooner they can start receiving treatment. That can mean less severe symptoms and improved quality of the life for those with the chronic degenerate disease. Now, a new technique described in The Lancet Neurology offers doctors a tool to test for Parkinson’s even before people start having symptoms.
Researchers recruited 1123 participants and administered a spinal tap to measure levels of a protein called alpha-synuclein. When misfolded, this protein causes others like it to misfold as well, kicking off a cascade. The misfolded proteins can clump together, damaging brain cells and leading to symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The scientists mixed the alpha-synuclein taken from patients with normal versions of the protein and observed whether the mixture clumped up. In 87% of cases, the test accurately pinpointed who had Parkinson’s disease, even before they began to develop symptoms.
The test, funded in part by the Michael J. Fox Foundation, was particularly predictive for patients with a particular type of Parkinson’s disease characterized by loss of sense of smell; it was less successful and predicting the disease in people with mutations in the LRRK2 gene, which is thought to contribute to developing the disease pathology. Those results suggest the test could help scientists learn more about how the biology of disease differs from person to person, which could help scientists design clinical trials for future treatments, STAT reports.