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article imageEssential Science: Parkinson's test offers faster diagnosis

By Tim Sandle     Aug 29, 2016 in Science
Edinburgh - Medics hope that a new Parkinson's protein test could lead to earlier diagnosis of the disease. The disease is connected to the accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein.
One of the key causes of Parkinson's disease is thought to be the accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein. High levels of the protein are linked to the progressive degeneration of the neurons, which leads to the symptoms of Parkinson's disease occurring. It is hoped that an early detection of the protein will allow for an earlier diagnosis of the condition and thus earlier care for patients. Why the protein builds up could be linked to genetic factors or to the accumulation of toxins.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system mainly affecting the motor system. The first wave of symptoms includes shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with walking and gait. These symptoms are manifest progressively (that is, they get worse over time). Following this, behavioral and cognitive problems can arise.
The disease is progressive. Moreover, the condition is difficult to detect and it can take several years for the disease to become apparent. The numbers affected around the world are considerable; in the U.S. alone there could be up to one million people affected.
With the new research into early detection, by using samples of spinal fluid from 38 patients, researchers from the University of Edinburgh have been looking for signs of alpha-synuclein using a highly sensitive technique. While the protein is found in healthy brains, problems arise when the protein sticks together to form lumps.
The lumps are termed Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are abnormal aggregates of protein that develop inside nerve cells in Parkinson's disease.
According to BBC Science, by using the new method, the researchers correctly identified 19 out of 20 samples from patients with Parkinson's and three samples from people who were thought to be at risk of the condition. Although further trials are required, the test method has great potential as a diagnostic tool.
The new detection method has been described in a research paper published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. The research paper is titled "Alpha-synuclein RT-QuIC in the CSF of patients with alpha-synucleinopathies."
While an early diagnosis will help to identify patients, and current medication can help to alleviate the symptoms, there is, however, no cure. Nonetheless research is continuing to investigate potential cures. Once such project is looking at using immune cells to produce a protein that can heal and promote the growth of damaged neurons. An alternative research strand is examining how nanotechnology can be used for delivering dopamine to the brain (people with the disease lack dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that is needed for nerve cells to communicate with each other. It is therefore essential for controlled body movements).
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week we explore a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we looked at how electroconvulsive shock treatment is making a come-back. The week before we examined the complexities of sleep deprivation and how affects the brain in different ways.
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