Blood biomarker may yield simple early test for Parkinson's

Since 1817, when James Parkinson first described the disease in his "Essay on the Shaking Palsy," physicians have looked for the ideal diagnostic for Parkinson's disease, and over the last few years, there has been a major push toward biomarkers that can spot the disease, ideally before symptoms start. Research led by the University of Lancaster in the U.K. has isolated a blood biomarker that has potential as a simple blood test for the progressive degenerative neurological disorder.

Patients with Parkinson's disease show Lewy bodies, aggregates of proteins within nerve cells, and these contain phosphorylated and aggregated alpha-synuclein (α-syn). This is also expressed at increased levels in the blood (compared with people without Parkinson's disease), and indicates early brain damage, even before symptoms appear.

"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," said David Allsop, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Division of Biomedical and Life Sciences and the School of Health and Medicine at the University of Lancaster. "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."

In September 2010, the Michael J. Fox Foundation launched the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative, a $40 million 5-year study to find biomarkers for Parkinson's disease. A biomarker for Parkinson's disease, especially one that allows early detection, could have a number of benefits, including ruling out other neurological disorders.

Identifying the disease before symptoms start could help physicians start treatments promptly and track their efficacy, as well as monitor the progress of the disease and give patients and their families time to come to terms with the disabling diagnosis. It could also allow researchers to develop treatments that target the markers, and identify patients most likely to respond. More research is needed before this biomarker can be used in diagnosis or to track progression, but it shows potential.

- read the press release
- check out the abstract in the FASEB Journal