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Could a Blood Test Predict Parkinson's Years Before Symptoms?

Key Takeaways

  • A new blood test might be able to predict who will get Parkinson’s disease

  • The test uses AI to assess eight different markers in the blood

  • It successfully predicted 16 people who wound up with Parkinson’s

TUESDAY, June 18, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- A new blood test might be able to predict Parkinson’s disease up to seven years before symptoms of the movement disorder surface, researchers said.

The test correctly predicted a high risk of Parkinson’s in 16 patients who went on to develop the disease, results show.

If validated, the test could help provide early treatment that might blunt or even block the onset of Parkinson’s, researchers said.

“As new therapies become available to treat Parkinson’s, we need to diagnose patients before they have developed the symptoms,” said senior researcher Kevin Mills, a professor with University College London.

Parkinson’s is caused by the death of nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which controls movement.

These nerve cells produce an important hormone called dopamine. As a person’s dopamine levels decline, they develop symptoms like tremors, slowness of movement and gait and memory problems, researchers said.

Currently, people with Parkinson’s are treated with dopamine replacement therapy once they’ve developed symptoms.

It’s believed that early prediction of Parkinson’s could be valuable in finding treatments that would slow or stop the disease by protecting dopamine-producing brain cells, researchers said.

“We cannot regrow our brain cells and therefore we need to protect those that we have,” Mills said in a university news release. “At present, we are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and we need to start experimental treatments before patients develop symptoms.”

For the study, researchers trained an AI program to recognize Parkinson’s using eight blood-based biomarkers.

The AI could diagnose Parkinson’s with 100% accuracy, researchers found, They then tested the program’s ability to predict whether a person would go on to develop Parkinson’s later in their lives.

Researchers had the AI analyze blood from 72 patients with Rapid Eye Movement Behavior Disorder. The disorder causes people to physically act out their dreams without knowing about it or remembering it.

About 75% to 80% of people with this disorder will go on to develop either Parkinson’s or a brain disorder similar to it, researchers said.

The AI found that 79% of the patients had the same blood profile as someone with Parkinson’s, results show.

Over 10 years’ follow-up, 16 of the people predicted for Parkinson’s went on to develop the disorder, researchers said.

The new study was published June 18 in the journal Nature Communications.

The team is continuing to follow the rest of the group, to see how many others wind up with Parkinson’s.

“By determining eight proteins in the blood, we can identify potential Parkinson's patients several years in advance. This means that drug therapies could potentially be given at an earlier stage, which could possibly slow down disease progression or even prevent it from occurring,” said lead researcher Dr. Michael Bartl, a neurologist with University Medical Center Goettingen in Germany.

“We have not only developed a test, but can diagnose the disease based on markers that are directly linked to processes such as inflammation and degradation of non-functional proteins,” Bartl added. “So these markers represent possible targets for new drug treatments.”

More information

The National Institute on Aging has more about Parkinson’s disease.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, June 18, 2024

What This Means For You

People might be able to avoid Parkinson’s disease or have its symptoms blunted if early treatment becomes available.

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