Scientists have developed a new technique that could help diagnose Parkinson’s disease before symptoms show, and speed up the hunt for a cure.
Parkinson’s is difficult to diagnose because at present there is no specific test for the condition. Symptoms vary and several other illnesses have similar symptoms, which means the condition can often be misdiagnosed.
Now US scientists say they have come up with a way to identify the buildup of abnormal proteins associated with the disease long before symptoms show. Their findings were published in the Lancet Neurology journal.
The research appears to confirm that the method, known as alpha-synuclein seed amplification assay (alphaSyn-SAA), can accurately identify people who are at risk of developing the disease. The findings could pave the way for early detection, diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s.
Globally, prevalence of the condition has doubled in the last 25 years, with as many as 10 million people having the disease.
Recent diagnoses in a number of high-profile people including the US congresswoman Jennifer Wexton and the British television presenter Jeremy Paxman have increased awareness.
Prof Andrew Siderowf, of the University of Pennsylvania, a co-lead author of the study, said: “Identifying an effective biomarker for Parkinson’s disease pathology could have profound implications for the way we treat the condition, potentially making it possible to diagnose people earlier, identify the best treatments for different subsets of patients and speed up clinical trials.”
Parkinson’s is caused by the buildup of abnormal proteins known as alpha-synuclein (alphaSyn) throughout the brain and the nervous system. This buildup is thought to take place years before physical symptoms such as tremors, slowness of movement or muscle stiffness start to emerge.
The study involved 1,123 participants, making it one of the largest so far to assess the usefulness of the alphaSyn-SAA technique. It confirmed that the technique could accurately detect people with Parkinson’s, and also suggested it could identify individuals at risk and those with early, non-motor symptoms before diagnosis.
However, the researchers cautioned that further longer-term studies with larger sample sizes would be needed to fully assess the usefulness of the alphaSyn-SAA technique.