A new blood test could be used to diagnose Parkinson’s before it begins to damage the nervous system.
Current diagnoses of Parkinson’s – the second most common neurological disease behind Alzheimer’s – is largely based on clinical symptoms after significant neurological damage has already occurred.
Researchers hope this new test could be used to diagnose patients before such damage occurs.
The progressive disorder affects the nervous system and parts of the body controlled by nerves and afflicts around ten million people across the globe.
The study team, led by neuroscientists at the Duke University School of Medicine, focused their work on DNA damage in mitochondria.
Mitochondria are factories within cells that convert raw energy into a form that powers cells and contains their own DNA, which can undergo damage separately from the nuclear DNA that encodes most of an organism’s genome.
Previous studies have shown the association between mitochondrial DNA damage and an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Duke University researchers have previously reported an accumulation of such DNA damage in the brain tissue of deceased Parkinson’s patients.
Using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, the study team developed a test that successfully quantified higher levels of mitochondrial DNA damage in blood cells collected from patients with Parkinson’s disease compared to those without the disease.
The new test also identified high levels of the damaged DNA in the blood samples of people who harbor the genetic mutation LRRK2 – which has been associated with an increased risk of the disease and was able to detect patients with Parkinson’s disease with and without LRRK2 mutations.
Further analysis of cells from Parkinson’s patients explored whether the team’s PCR-based test could determine the effectiveness of a therapy that targets the effects associated with LRRK2 mutation.
Senior author and neuroscientist Laurie Sanders, an associate professor at the Duke School of Medicine’s departments of Neurology and Pathology, hopes her team’s new test could not only diagnose Parkinson’s sooner but could even one day lead to a cure for the degenerative disease.
“Currently, Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed largely based on clinical symptoms after significant neurological damage has already occurred,” Dr Sanders explained.
“A simple blood test would allow us to diagnose the disease earlier and start therapies sooner.
“Additionally, a clear-cut diagnosis would accurately identify patients who could participate in drug studies, leading to the development of better treatments and potentially even cures.
“Our hope is that this assay could not only diagnose Parkinson’s disease but also identify drugs that reverse or halt mitochondrial DNA damage and the disease process.
“This disease takes a terrible toll on people, and we are still just treating the symptoms.
“It’s important to get new, effective treatments over the finish line.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker