By modifying a test for prion diseases, a team of researchers managed to improve early diagnosis of two neurodegenerative conditions.
In the United States only, Parkinson’s disease affects approximately 1 million people. This degenerative disorder of the nervous system affects dopamine-producing neurons and causes tremors, gait and balance problems, or bradykinesia. These motor symptoms appear hand in hand with depression, sleep disorders, and cognitive impairment, often making this condition difficult to live with. Usually, when the symptoms start to show, the irreversible damage to neurons has already been done, which is why early detection and treatment could significantly improve patient’s chances. And this is precisely what this new test aims to offer.
A modified test for prion diseases, which involves taking a sample of cerebral spinal fluid, turned out to be accurate in 93 percent cases, when used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies. The test successfully excluded all of the control samples (Alzheimer’s) and delivered results much earlier than any current tests- in two days, to be precise, as opposed to two weeks it takes now. This means that a cerebral spinal fluid sample could be all that’s needed to detect these conditions years before any of the typical symptoms appear, and the results would be available in record time.
Both Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy’s bodies can be linked to the same underlying abnormalities in how the brain processes the protein alpha-synuclein, which is what makes it possible for these diseases to be detected by the same test.
Although Parkinson’s might be the most common neurodegenerative diseases this test could catch on time, an early stage diagnosis of dementia with Levy bodies is equally important. Although it doesn’t account for such a considerable percentage of cognitive impairment causes, this condition is also progressive and with symptoms appearing later in life. This type of dementia might not cause symptoms as severe as Alzheimer’s does, but it still causes significant memory loss and overall cognitive decline.
The possibility for early detection opens the door for doctors to set up an effective treatment in the initial stages of the diseases, as well as determine one’s eligibility for cutting-edge clinical trials. Alternatively, knowing what they’re up against before experiencing symptoms could help patients deal with their diagnosis better and ensure they have a support system in place.
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