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Parkinson’s study could pave way for early detection test

Aug 2016: CCBS researchers have developed a way of detecting a protein linked to Parkinson's disease in samples of spinal fluid.

The test, developed by Dr Alison Green and her team, can detect clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein in samples of spinal fluid from patients. This protein forms sticky clumps called Lewy bodies inside the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s and some types of dementia.

The researchers have used a highly sensitive technology that measures the 'stickiness' of proteins. The approach – called real-time quaking induced conversion – can detect tiny differences in the properties of proteins in the brain that can mean the difference between disease or not.

In early tests, the technique accurately identified 19 out of 20 samples from patients with Parkinson’s disease, as well as three samples from people considered to be at risk of the condition. There were no false positives in any of the 15 control samples from healthy people.

Previous efforts to develop a test for alpha-synuclein have produced inconsistent results because the protein is also found in healthy brains. It is only when the protein clumps together that it causes problems.

The test needs to be validated with a larger sample group but they are optimistic that it could one day improve early detection and diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

We have already used this technique to develop an accurate test for Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease, another neurodegenerative condition. We hope that with further refinement, our approach will help to improve diagnosis for Parkinson’s patients.

Dr Alison GreenCentre for Clinical Brain Sciences

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain condition caused by the loss of nerve cells. It is not known what causes the condition and there is currently no accurate test for it. Patients often have to wait years for a diagnosis, which is based on physical symptoms, their medical history and the results of simple mental and physical exercises

The study was funded by the Chief Scientist Office, Government of Scotland, and the Michael J Fox Foundation. It is published in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

Related links

Read the article: Alpha-synuclein RT-QuIC in the CSF of patients with alpha-synucleinopathies

Dr Alison Green Principal Investigator profile

Article on the BBC News website