Michael J. Fox Foundation backs development of Parkinson's blood Dx

Researchers at La Trobe University got new funding from the MJFF to develop a blood test for Parkinson's.--Courtesy of La Trobe University

Researchers in Australia are working on a blood test for Parkinson's disease, and now their efforts just got a financial boost from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research (MJFF).

Scientists at Melbourne's La Trobe University received more than $640,000 from the MJFF and its local partner, the Shake It Up Association, to develop their diagnostic blood test for the disease. The test, which scans for abnormal metabolism in blood cells in Parkinson's patients, could be available in as few as 5 years if additional funds can be raised, the team said in a statement.

"The MJFF grant will allow us to extend our study so we can discover new ways to help diagnose and monitor progression of the disease. It is even possible that the blood test could be developed to detect all types of neuro-degenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's," Paul Fisher, a professor of microbiology at La Trobe, said in a statement.

The team has already tested the diagnostic on a small group of 38 people: 29 who have Parkinson's and 9 who do not have the disease. Scientists plan to increase the trial pool to 100 participants: 70 with Parkinson's and a control group of 30 people without the disease, the team said.

The test responds to a growing need. More than 6.3 million people have Parkinson's, but no clinical biomarker test exists for the disease, the scientists said. Right now, a brain exam is the only way to diagnose Parkinson's. And the exam often comes too late, after patients have already developed symptoms and brain cells were destroyed.

Fisher and his team based their work on previous research, which found that something in Parkinson's patients causes their cells to become "hyperactive." The activity then causes toxic oxygen by-products and damages vital cells in the brain over time.

The scientists' recent work could have far-reaching implications. In the future, La Trobe scientists also plan to look into the underlying mechanisms of Parkinson's by studying patients' blood cells, Fisher said.

- read the statement

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