Posted by Neharika Sabharwal on December 01, 2011

Researchers from the United Kingdom have developed a blood test to detect Parkinson’s in the early stages, well before external symptoms emerge, which could pave the way for a more effective treatment plan that could slow or even stop the progression of the disease.

Lead researcher, David Allsop, from the Division of Biomedical and Life Sciences and the School of Health and Medicine at the University of Lancaster, said, “A blood test for Parkinson's disease would mean you could find out if a person was in danger of getting the disease, before the symptoms started.

“This would help the development of medicines that could protect the brain, which would be better for the quality of life and future health of older people.”

A comparative study
According to the researchers, “phosphorylated alpha-synuclein”, a substance that accumulates in parts of the brain affected by Parkinson’s, can also be detected in the blood.

For the purpose of the study, they examined blood samples of a group of 32 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s and another 30, who were healthy and at the same age (the controls).

They took four blood samples from participants, one every month for a period of four months.

The investigators measured levels of three different forms of alpha-synuclein, including phosphorylated alpha-synuclein.

The results
The analysis revealed elevated levels of phosphorylated alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s patients as compared to their healthy counterparts, but not of the other forms (oligo-alpha-synuclein, and oligo-phospho-alpha-synuclein), and neither for all three.

Based on the findings, the researchers developed a simple test that measures high levels of phosphorylated alpha-synuclein in the blood.

The test could contribute to an early diagnosis of the neurological condition before the onset of outwards symptoms but after brain damage has begun.

Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, said, “When most people think of Parkinson's disease, they think of the outward symptoms, such as involuntary movements, but many people with Parkinson's also develop neurological problems that may be more difficult to detect right away.

“Having a blood test not only helps doctors rule out other possible causes of the outward symptoms, but it also allows for early detection which can help patients and their caregivers prepare for the possibility of the mental, emotional, and behavioral problems that the disease can cause.”

Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive movement disorder caused by the degeneration of nerve cells of the substantia nigra of the brain.

A person suffering from this disease develops rigidity of limbs and joints. The symptoms include slowness or absence of movement, tremors, and impaired balance and coordination.

Though Parkinson’s cannot be cured, drugs and physiotherapy provide relief.

The symptoms get worse as the disease progresses with patients having difficulty walking, talking, and even completing simple tasks.

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