Scientists are a step closer to developing a test for early-stage Parkinson’s disease.
A molecule linked to the brain condition can be detected in samples of spinal fluid, research has shown.
The discovery may pave the way to earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s, improving treatment prospects.
Parkinson’s disease causes the progressive loss of neurons involved in movement, leading to uncontrollable tremors, rigid muscles and poor balance.
An estimated 127,000 people in the UK have the disease, most of them over the age of 50.
The test molecule is a protein called alpha-synuclein which forms sticky clumps known as Lewy bodies within the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s and some types of dementia.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh used highly sensitive technology to differentiate between healthy and harmful forms of the protein.
In early studies the technique accurately identified 19 out of 20 samples from Parkinson’s patients, as well as three samples from people thought to be at risk of the condition.
Dr Alison Green, from the National CJD Research and Surveillance Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We have already used this technique to develop an accurate test for Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease (CJD), another neurodegenerative condition. We hope that with further refinement, our approach will help to improve diagnosis for Parkinson’s patients.
“We are also interested in whether it could be used to identify people with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia in the early stages of their illness. These people could then be given the opportunity to take part in trials of new medicines that may slow, or stop, the progression of disease.”
The findings are published in the journal Annals Of Clinical And Translational Neurology.
Dr Beckie Port, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, said: “Parkinson’s has no definitive diagnostic test – leaving an urgent need for a simple and accurate way of detecting the condition, particularly in the beginning stages.
“Although early days, the fact that researchers have developed a new test that is able to detect abnormal alpha-synuclein in the spinal fluid of people with Parkinson’s with remarkable specificity and sensitivity, is hugely promising.
“Further research is needed to test more samples to see if the results continue to hold true, but this could be a significant development towards a future early diagnostic test for Parkinson’s.”