Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects over 10 million people worldwide, causing difficulties in movement. Currently, there are no specific laboratory or imaging tests available for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease, making prognosis challenging. However, a recent study from Lund University in Sweden has identified a new biomarker that can be used to detect Parkinson’s disease and related conditions, even before symptoms develop.
Biomarkers are medical signs that aid in diagnosing diseases or indicating specific physiological states. They can be found in various bodily fluids and tissues and can be detected through analysis. These biomarkers can provide measurable information about an individual’s health status, such as blood pressure, body temperature, or cholesterol levels.
In this study, the researchers analyzed samples from 428 participants, including healthy controls and individuals with Lewy body dementia, a condition often associated with Parkinson’s disease. They discovered that individuals with a disorder affecting their dopamine system, like Parkinson’s disease, had elevated levels of a protein called DOPA decarboxylase (DCC) in their cerebrospinal fluid. The researchers also found that this biomarker increased significantly in the bloodstream, offering a safer and more accessible diagnostic tool.
Dr. Oskar Hansson, the lead author of the study, highlighted the significance of this finding. He explained that elevated levels of the protein DCC were observed in patients with various Parkinsonian disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body dementia, progressive supranuclear palsy, and multiple system atrophy. Furthermore, the levels of this biomarker were increased even before the onset of symptoms, potentially allowing for the prediction of disease development. This could be crucial for future clinical trials evaluating therapies that aim to slow down or halt disease progression before symptoms appear.
This new biomarker is not the first to be associated with Parkinson’s disease. Previous studies have identified potential biomarkers in cerebrospinal fluid, urine, and genetic markers for monitoring the disease’s effectiveness and tracking its progression. However, having accurate fluid biomarkers, particularly those measurable in blood, would be more cost-effective and scalable compared to current methods like PET imaging.
Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the gradual onset of symptoms related to movement impairment. The cause of the disease is still uncertain, but it is believed to involve low levels of dopamine and damaged nerve endings leading to reduced norepinephrine levels. Several risk factors have been identified for Parkinson’s disease.
Dr. Sameea Husain, a movement disorder neurologist, emphasized the importance of biomarkers in diagnosing Parkinson’s disease and related conditions. Detecting preclinical stages of Lewy body dementia would be beneficial for families and caregivers to plan for the future and potentially enroll in research clinic trials. Additionally, these biomarkers would increase diagnostic accuracy when identifying Parkinson’s or atypical Parkinsonian patients.
Dr. Husain expressed the desire to capture patients with Parkinson’s disease and related conditions as early as possible, as early treatment has been associated with a better quality of life. She also mentioned the need for further research to validate the safety and efficacy of the biomarker test before it becomes commercially available.