A study published Monday in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology unveiled a new test capable of detecting Parkinson’s disease in its early stages. The technique serves to identify a Parkinson’s-related molecule in spinal fluid samples from patients.

Parkinson’s disease consists of a chronic movement disorder that results in the malfunction and death of nerve cells in the brain. Health experts around the world have failed to find the cause and cure for the disease, which affects nearly one million people in the United States, as reported by the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. A research team from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland successfully identified 19 of 20 samples from patients living with Parkinson’s in addition to three samples from people at risk for the disease.

Parkinson's disease
Further research will be needed to confirm how accurate the technique is, but the research team believes that it could help improve the diagnosis of the disease. Image credit: www.demedicina.com

The technique detects alpha-synuclein, a protein molecule that forms sticky clumps known as Lewy bodies inside the brain cells of patients with Parkinson’s. To see if there were any false-positives, the researchers tested the new technique on 15 healthy people and were pleased to find out that their test did not detect the disease in any of these participants.

Green said the team also wanted to know if it could be used to identify people with Lewy body dementia in the early stages. These people could one day have the chance to be involved in trials of new medicines that may slow or even stop the progression of the disease, Green added, as reported by UPI.

“We have already used this technique to develop an accurate test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, another neurodegenerative condition. We hope that with further refinement, our approach will help to improve diagnosis for Parkinson’s patients,” Alison Green, of the National CJD Research and Surveillance Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said in a university news release.

Specific mutations in Parkinson’s protein could dramatically impact processes behind its onset

A separate research team at the Centre for Misfolding Diseases, in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, found that tiny changes in the sequence of the protein alpha-synuclein can have a great impact on microscopic processes that may take place in the human brain.

This phenomenon may have the potential to cause Parkinson’s Disease eventually. Made up of 140 amino acids, alpha-synuclein helps with the smooth flow of the brain’s chemical signals. Parkinson’s disease occur when this protein malfunctions for a reason that scientists do not fully understand yet.

Parkinson's disease protein
“Approximately 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year, and this number does not reflect the thousands of cases that go undetected,” said the Parkison’s Disease Foundation. Image credit: MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

The protein stops folding into the specific shape it needs, to play its important role and starts to cluster and create toxic structures called amyloid fibrils. The investigators remarked that they cannot explain why people get the disease, which has multiple complex causes.

Lead author Patrick Flagmeier, a Ph.D. student at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, said that the research helped his team to understand basic processes in the system by which Parkinson’s emerges.

According to a report by Medical Xpress, Flagmeier hopes to better understand these new findings in the future to be able to work on therapeutic strategies to fight the disease.

Source: United Press International