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Recent Parkinson’s Disease Discoveries Offer Hope

Recent Parkinson's Disease Discoveries

Several recent discoveries concerning Parkinson’s disease may offer hope both for people who have the disease and for those who may develop it. Here are the results of research from three sources that focused on Parkinson’s disease.

A saliva gland test may help diagnosis

Currently it is difficult to accurately diagnose Parkinson’s disease, but that may change in the near future. Mayo Clinic researchers report they have found that testing a person’s submandibular saliva glands (which are located under the lower jaw) for the presence of certain proteins may be an accurate way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.

Although only 15 patients participated in the study that led researchers to suggest a saliva gland test could be helpful in diagnosing Parkinson’s disease, the authors are enthused about their findings. According to the main researcher, Charles Adler, MD, PhD, “this finding may be of great use when needing definitive proof of Parkinson’s disease.”

Adler also noted that the ability to make a diagnosis in living individuals “is a big step forward in our effort to understand and better treat patients.” For now, the only way to obtain a definitive diagnosis is to do a brain autopsy.

The saliva test is not yet available. Scientists from Mayo Clinic will be presenting their findings at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in March.

Simple bike test for diagnosis
Japanese researchers have found that a simple bicycle test can help distinguish between people who have Parkinson’s disease from those who have atypical parkinsonism. Making this distinction is important because the two conditions respond differently to treatment.

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Based on their research, the investigators reported that 88.9 percent of people with atypical parkinsonism lost their ability to ride a bicycle during the early stage of their condition, while only 9.8 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease were unable to ride.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include slowness of movement, stiffness, unsteady gait, freezing while walking, and tremors when at rest. These symptoms worsen as the nerve cells (neurons) in the brain die. These cells produce a chemical (dopamine) that is necessary for controlling movement and coordination.

Some people who display these symptoms may have atypical parkinsonism, but their symptoms are not caused by the same mechanisms responsible for Parkinson’s disease. They also may have other symptoms, such as abnormal eye movement and unstable blood pressure.

New drug approach
A research team at Tel Aviv University recently developed a new treatment for Parkinson’s disease that is based on gene mutation. It’s known that specific genetic mutations are involved in the disease and that mutations of the gene DJ-1 can cause rapid loss of dopamine-producing neurons, which in turn leads to loss of motor control.

The scientists, under the leadership of Dr. Nirit Lev, created a peptide (a combination of two or more amino acids) based on the healthy DJ-1 gene and attached it to another peptide so it could be delivered and carried to the brain using either a patch or injection. According to Dr. Lev, this approach could serve both as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and as a way to prevent it if people with a genetic predisposition for the disease are tested early and start taking the peptide.

These three studies are just a few of the many research efforts being made on behalf of this debilitating disease. They and others offer hope for the millions of people around the world who suffer with Parkinson’s disease.

Mayo Clinic
Miwa H and Kondo T. Bicycle sign for differential diagnosis of parkinsonism. Journal of Parkinson’s Disease 2011; 1(2): 167-68
Tel Aviv University

Image: Morguefile