Parkinson’s disease has been a subject of much research for many years in order to find an effective diagnostic test. Currently, there are no lab tests that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease. However, this may change soon with the development of new tests that can detect traces of a protein called alpha-synuclein that misfolds and gums up specific parts of the brain. SYNTap and Syn-One are two such tests that can detect the misfolded protein seeds in spinal fluids and skin, respectively. These tests cannot diagnose Parkinson’s disease yet but rather point to a group of disorders caused by abnormal clumping of the alpha-synuclein protein. For instance, the group includes multiple system atrophy, a rare disorder that damages several parts of the brain, and dementia with Lewy bodies.
Currently, doctors diagnose Parkinson’s disease by observing tell-tale physical symptoms such as tremors, trouble balancing, stiffness, and halting gait. These symptoms can be subtle at first, and it can be difficult to distinguish Parkinson’s from other disorders until the disease is more advanced and affects more of the brain. The lack of a lab test that can pick up the disease in its early stages has stymied the search for new treatments. The new tests, if reliable, will allow studies of a group of people with the same movement symptoms, even if the disease process is still in its early stages. Many therapies work best when given during the first symptoms or even before.
In a recent study, the SYNTap test proved accurate when given to 1,100 participants with Parkinson’s, people who have not been diagnosed but have clinical and genetic risks, and healthy controls. Overall, the test correctly identified Parkinson’s disease patients 88% of the time while ruling it out 96% of the time. It was most accurate in people without known genetic risks for Parkinson’s disease who had lost their sense of smell. In this group, 99% of the time, the test correctly detected the disease. The test was not as accurate in people with LRRK2 gene mutation.
The test’s accuracy, though not conclusive, is a big step forward in diagnosis and research on Parkinson’s disease. It will provide a benchmark for future studies for detecting the disease before movement impairment occurs. However, it won’t change how patients receive treatment because Parkinson’s treatment is based on symptom relief rather than finding the root cause of the disease. Nonetheless, the tests are a significant milestone in Parkinson’s disease research that could lead to a better understanding of the disease’s biological processes and new treatments. Doctors will soon be able to focus on biology and hasten engagement in clinical trials.
The test is now available to doctors, but larger clinical trials are required to show the test’s reliability. The current test involves an invasive spinal tap, but the researchers hope to translate their results to biological samples like blood or saliva, which are easier to collect. The tests will potentially bring peace of mind to patients with correct diagnoses and speed up the studies of the disease before the patients’ movement impairment.
In conclusion, the tests will provide a more accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease if developed further. They might even serve as a biomarker for the disease with further studies. The tests will give doctors an opportunity to study the same group of patients with similar symptoms, even if the disease process is new. It’s a significant breakthrough that could also lead to an understanding of the disease’s biological processes and treatments, bringing us closer to the day when Parkinson’s disease is easy to diagnose and cure.
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