Skin Test May Detect Parkinson’s Early

As with many diseases and health conditions that have no cure, early detection is vital to help slow down the progression and improve the quality of life for patients.  But so often, by the time symptoms lead to a diagnosis, much of the damage may be already done.  In the case of Parkinson’s disease, early detection of the progressive, neurodegenerative disease has been poor, making treatment options less effective.  But new research using a skin test to detect Parkinson’s in its early stages may offer hope for treating patients before the brain disorder causes movement and other health problems. 

According to a recent Health Canada report, more than 100,000 Canadians are currently living with Parkinson’s and there are an estimated 6,600 new cases diagnosed each year.  On average, patients are diagnosed with PD at the age of 65 when symptoms like tremors and other motor control problems become apparent and impair physical function.  By the time a diagnosis is made, damage to the brain and nerve endings may already be permanent. 

Using a skin biopsy to detect a build-up of alpha-synuclein proteins that are believed to be a factor in triggering Parkinson’s, researchers are optimistic that early detection could result in slowing the progression of the disease.  The misfolding of proteins that form in the brain of patients is thought to cause neuron death resulting in a drop in dopamine that triggers Parkinson’s.  

The Iowa State University blind study examined skin samples from 50 people; half of which were healthy and half suffering from Parkinson’s.  By identifying misfolding proteins, researchers were able to detect the disease in 24 out of the 25 Parkinson’s patients.  Because there is currently no simple or reliable test for PD, a skin test has the potential not only to detect Parkinson’s early when treatment is more effective but may also help reduce the number of inaccurate diagnoses.  

Learn more about support options for people living with Parkinson’s and their families as well as ongoing research, treatment, and educational resources by following this link to The Michael J. Fox Foundation website.