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Parkinson's Biomarker Test May Help Prognosis, Study Says

Tuesday August 27, 2013

Everyday Health - Protein extracted from the spinal fluid may hold the key to better diagnosis, treatment, and prevention for Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study published in JAMA Neurology.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine have linked biological differences to specific symptoms of this neurological disorder. Experts hope to use this information to better understand how specific proteins can alter the prognosis of Parkinson’s – and to someday develop symptom-specific treatment regimens.

At the beginning of the study, researchers collected spinal fluid from a total of 102 participants. Sixty three had early, untreated Parkinson’s disease, and 39 were healthy controls. Researchers found that when compared to the healthy adults, the spinal fluids of subjects with Parkinson’s disease had a different chemical makeup.

It’s difficult for researchers to study the pathology of Parkinson’s since it’s a neurological condition. Unlike cancer, where biopsies are routine in the affected areas, researchers can’t physically examine the brain. But according to Todd Sherer, PhD, neuroscientist and CEO of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, this study provides crucial insight on the biological changes that occur in Parkinson’s disease.

“The spinal fluid, which feeds and bathes the brain, provides researchers with a window on biological information,” Dr. Sherer said. For example, the researchers in this study discovered a relationship with the protein buildup in the spinal fluid and the presence of Parkinson’s symptoms.

“In the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease, there are changes in the way the brain handles certain proteins. You get these clumps of protein buildup in the brain from spinal fluid,” he said.

Parkinson’s is a progressive disorder, meaning that it becomes more severe over time. Currently, doctors prescribe regimens such as dopamine agonists and deep brain stimulation to treat the physical symptoms such as tremors. But as the condition worsens, treatment becomes less effective and must be altered.

But the progression of Parkinson’s disease can vary widely from patient to patient. When evaluating the proteins in the spinal fluids, researchers in this study discovered major differences between subjects. The subjects with Parkinson’s had lower levels of protein biomarkers amyloid beta, tau and, alpha synuclein in their spinal fluid. Researchers also linked specific concentrations of protein biomarkers to specific Parkinson’s symptoms. For example, those with lower concentrations of tau and alpha synuclein had greater motor dysfunction. And patients with low levels of amyloid beta and tau were more likely to have balance issues and postural instability.

Understanding the biomarkers of Parkinson’s can eventually help researchers tailor medication to the patient’s specific symptoms. “We can really track treatment to slow the biological changes,” Sherer said.

“It’s setting the stage for a better understanding of Parkinson’s so that we can develop treatments to slow the progression of the disease,” he said.
A Parkinson’s Diagnostic Test on the Way?

Today’s study is part of the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), a worldwide observational clinical study headed by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. This ongoing, large-scale study, started in 2010 and considered to be the first of its kind, was developed to uncover a biomarker for this brain disorder.

"Biomarkers for Parkinson's disease such as these could help us diagnose patients earlier," said study senior author Leslie M. Shaw, PhD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn Medicine in a press release. "And we've now shown that the simultaneous measurement of a variety of neurodegenerative disease proteins is valuable."

Reid, A. (27 Aug 2013). Everyday Health. Parkinson's Biomarker Test May Help Prognosis, Study Says. www.everydayhealth.com

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