There may be a new way to detect Parkinson’s Disease, most importantly years before symptoms start.
There are nearly one million people living with Parkinson’s in the United States today. As there is still no cure for the disease, early detection is recognized to be the best way to manage and live with Parkinson's for as long as possible.
Researchers at the Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Center, part of Oxford University, have developed a new detection method that requires a small needle being placed in the lower back to test a person’s spinal fluid, to see if one particular protein, that shows up in clumps when Parkinson’s is first developing can be detected.
The Oxford study was conducted by testing the spinal fluid of 74 people who had previously been diagnosed with early- onset Parkinson’s, together with a set of and 55 people who were perfectly healthy.
By using the so-called alpha-synuclein protein, a dopamine receptor, the test was able to positively identify the 74 Parkinson’s patients with 89 percent accuracy, according to published results.
Ray Chaudhuri, a professor of movement disorders at King’s College London, noted that while a needle in the spine might not be the most comfortable or exciting idea for patients, the new test is “a step in the right direction of getting an earlier diagnosis.”
Parkinson’s is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the area of the brain responsible for controlling movement, which decreases the amount of dopamine in a person’s nervous system.
Dopamine helps with neurotransmission in the brain and when a person has naturally low dopamine levels, it causes their body movements to become slow and increasingly abnormal.
The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are tremors and muscle stiffness, mostly due to the impact that the lost nerve cells have on the patient’s dopamine levels.
Early detection can be the best way to address the disease. Given that once a patient’s nerve cells die, they cannot be regenerated.
This new test increases the ability to catch the disease as early as possible, potentially years before the onset of major symptoms. The goal would be to increase the average life expectancy of a someone with Parkinson’s with valuable extra years of healthy living.
Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox are two of the most high profile people diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. It was only back in the 1980's when Fox was introduced to us through the show Family Ties.