A new blood test has been developed that could help doctors to diagnose Parkinson’s disease without being as invasive as previous methods. It uses a newly discovered protein, which when found in the blood denotes the presence of the disease.
In the past, patients have had to undergo a spinal fluid test to discern whether the symptoms they are experiencing are in fact the result of Parkinson’s. The new discovery, which was made during research by scientists at Sweden’s Lund University, could be a big step forward in understanding the disease.
Some 127,000 people, mainly in middle-age or elderly, are believed to have Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms include slow movement, tremors and rigidity of the muscles, making everyday tasks hard to complete.
While there are currently no cures for the disease, early diagnosis is key in controlling the symptoms and helping patients live as ordinary lives as possible. Progressive nerve cell damage is thought to begin before symptoms appear and a diagnosis can be sought.
There are other conditions that display similar symptoms to those produced by Parkinson’s disease, making tests of fluid the best way to discern the difference. Blood is much simpler to extract than spinal fluid, however, and should be less uncomfortable for the patient.
Dr Oskar Hansson, leader of the study, said: “We have found that concentrations of a nerve protein in the blood can discriminate between these diseases as accurately as concentrations of that same protein in spinal fluid.”
Throughout the research, the scientists tested the blood of 504 people, including healthy participants and those who have been diagnosed with the disease for up to six years. Results showed that the blood tests were as accurate at the spinal fluid tests in discerning between Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases.
Dr Hansson added: “Our findings are exciting because when Parkinson's or an atypical parkinsonism disorder is suspected, one simple blood test will help a physician to give their patient a more accurate diagnosis.”
Claire Bale, head of research communications at Parkinson's UK, welcomed the development, stating that it could cut down on the stress and delays that come with getting a definitive diagnosis. It is thought that around one in ten people diagnosed with Parkinson’s actually have a different condition.
This means they do not receive the right treatment from the outset and clinical trials into new drugs to tackle Parkinson’s are therefore flawed. More research with bigger study groups needs to be done into the blood test, but it is a step forward in the route to diagnosis for potential Parkinson’s patients.