Possible Biomarker for Parkinson's Disease
Despite the comparatively small amount of information we
know about it, Parkinson’s disease is extremely common. A recent article from
Medical News Today noted that the neurological disorder affects over a million
people in the US and has developed a reputation as being difficult to diagnose.
Up until recently, the disease was only caught by physicians following the
appearance of more common and telling symptoms like tremors -- by which point,
a substantial number of brain cells would have already been destroyed. Fortunately,
researchers have started to have some luck after the discovery a protein in the
nervous system that could act as a biomarker.
“A reliable biomarker could help doctors in more accurately
diagnosing Parkinson’s disease at an earlier stage and thereby offer patients
therapies before the disease has progressed,” said Roy Freeman, MBChB, a
professor of neurology Harvard Medical School and the director of the Automatic
and Peripheral Nerve Laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC),
in the story.
In a study from BIDMC, scientists tracked levels of the
protein, called alpha-synuclein, finding the increased levels of the protein in
the skin of Parkinson’s Patients. Although little is currently known about the
role of the protein, the BIDMC researchers “have found it is the main component
of the abnormal clumps of protein or Lewy bodies, that form inside the brain
cells of people with Parkinson’s disease” (sic.). According to the Medical New
Today piece, the study consisted of 20 Parkinson’s patients and 14 “controls
matched for age and gender” and demonstrated higher concentrations of
alpha-synuclein “in the skin nerves supplying the sweat glands and the
pilomotor muscles” of patients with Parkinson’s disease.
“Alpha-synuclein deposition within the skin has the
potential to provide a safe, assessable and repeatable biomarker,” continued Freeman
in the Medical News Today article.
The success of the BIDMC study could be the first step towards the development of preventative measures, eventually leaving clinical laboratories up to the task of performing the assays essential to diagnosis. Although the presence of increased levels of the protein was
successfully linked to Parkinson’s and the severity of the disease, the next
step is to establish if the protein could be used as a biomarker for those at