Saliva gland could be secret to a Parkinson's disease Dx

No diagnostic tool exists for Parkinson's disease just yet, but scientists from the Mayo Clinic Arizona and elsewhere think they've found one viable option: Testing part of a person's saliva gland.

While further trials are needed, such a diagnostic test could be a great way to definitively confirm Parkinson's disease and to choose the best course of treatment. The researchers themselves note that a definitive diagnosis could help factor in whether deep brain stimulation surgery or gene therapy could make a difference. After all, if a neurodegenerative condition ended up not being Parkinson's, then treatments geared to the disease wouldn't exactly be well placed.

The study, funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, focused on 15 older patients who had Parkinson's for at least 12 years and responded to drug treatments for the condition. While four patients displayed inconclusive results (not enough samples for testing), the researchers were able to detect the abnormal Parkinson's protein in 9 of the remaining patient samples. Clinicians took biopsies from salivary glands under the lower jaw and minor salivary gland in the lower lip, and got great results from the lower jaw glands (but less so from the lower lip biopsies.)

"This is the first study demonstrating the value of testing a portion of the saliva gland to diagnose a living person for Parkinson's disease," study author Charles Adler of the Mayo Clinic Arizona, a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a statement.

Indeed. Previous tests have generally involved autopsies of Parkinson's patients, which confirmed that abnormal Parkinson's protein could be found in salivary glands under the lower jaw. Confirming this is a viable diagnostic tool for living patients is even better. Assuming further testing and analysis bears this out, doctors will have an even better way to help care for their patients in the future.

The study authors will present details of their research at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting, from March 16 to 23 in San Diego.

- read the release
- here's more from the Mayo Clinic

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