'One step closer' to diagnosing Parkinson's before symptoms appear: Study

A newly discovered test for Parkinson's disease shows promise in diagnosing the condition very early — and may help in identifying if a person is at risk of developing the disease, according to research findings that will be published in May in The Lancet Neurology. 

Parkinson's is caused by the buildup of alpha-synuclein — abnormal proteins — in the nervous system and brain. Scientists believe this buildup begins years before physical symptoms, such as tremors or muscle stiffness, are recognizable by the patient. 

This test, which examines spinal fluid from living patients, is able to reveal these abnormal proteins associated with the disease long before symptoms show, a Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research press release said. The test demonstrated "greater than 90 percent sensitivity in people with typical Parkinson's pathology."

This discovery has the potential to pave the way for early detection, diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease.

Known as the alpha-synuclein seed amplification assay, αSyn-SAA offers a "revolutionary … critical tool" that can be used to design clinical trials, assess treatment options and provide a pathway to early disease detection, according to the foundation.

David Eidelberg, MD, director of the Center for Neurosciences at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, N.Y., a division of New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, said he hopes "eventually" that will happen. 

For now, he told Becker's, the new test is an advance in research and what he hopes will be a "first important step that will ultimately end with a proper blood test, and when that happens, it will really be a game changer" for diagnosing Parkinson's.

This research "needs much more validation," Dr. Eidelberg said. "We're one step closer … but it's not the final step in bringing a [diagnostic] test for Parkinson's to a clinic near you."

The organization was founded by actor Michael J. Fox in 2000. In addition to Mr. Fox, who shared his Parkinson's diagnosis in 1991 at age 27, other celebrities have recently come forward about their battles with the disease including U.S. Rep.Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton of Virginia and the U.K. broadcast journalist Jeremy Paxman.

For the first time since the disorder was publicly described in 1917 by James Parkinson, scientists now have a test that uses a person's biology to diagnose and inform treatment of Parkinson's disease.

The αSyn-SAA test is already "unlocking new understanding of Parkinson's," said Kenneth Markek, MD, principal study investigator of the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative — an initiative of the foundation — and president and senior scientist at the Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders, said in the release. 

He added he expects the discovery "will transform every aspect of drug development and ultimately clinical care. We will rapidly be in a position to test new therapies in the right populations, target the right therapy to the right patient at the right time, and launch studies of agents with potential to prevent Parkinson's disease altogether. 

"When we started PPMI, we weren't casting about for fish — we were going after a whale," Mr. Fox said in the release. "Now, here we are. Together we are making a cure for Parkinson's inevitable."


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