After Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disease in Germany. It begins up to 20 years before typical symptoms such as tremors appear. However, early detection is not possible to date. But now researchers have discovered a biomarker that could help identify the disease long before it breaks out.
According to the German Society for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders (DPG), 400,000 people are affected by Parkinson’s disease in Germany alone. This neurodegenerative movement disorder leads to the death of nerve cells in the brain that are responsible for the transmission and production of the messenger substance dopamine.
Parkinson’s usually occurs between the ages of 55 and 60. Nevertheless, the number of younger people affected is increasing. According to the DPG, every tenth patient is diagnosed with Parkinson’s before the age of 40. Symptoms can be varied, but some of the most common include:
The insidious thing about Parkinson’s is that the disease develops insidiously and is usually only diagnosed when the symptoms appear. At this point, however, it can already exist for up to twenty years. Because there is no way to track them down earlier. “It’s a dilemma. Because of course you want to discover the disease in the early stages and develop measures to prevent patients from becoming stiff, trembling and slowing down,” says Annika Kluge from the Parkinson’s Early Detection Working Group at the Medical Faculty of Kiel University ( CAU).
But that could now change: Because this research group headed by Kluge has now made a breakthrough in this regard: “We have developed a biochemical blood-based test for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease,” explains biochemist Friederike Zunke, who is part of the research team. “With the help of our method, the 30 Parkinson’s patients tested could be differentiated from the 50 controls with a very high level of sensitivity,” she explains the results.
With the new method, vesicles can be isolated from nerve cells using a blood sample. These small sacs are pinched off from the cells and contain proteins from the original cell. “In this way it is also possible to obtain vesicles from the nervous system using a normal blood sample,” says Annika Kluge. When examining these vesicles, you can practically look into the brain, says the doctor.
In the second step, the researchers looked specifically for the protein that causes Parkinson’s in the nerve cell vesicles. It is an altered form of α-synuclein. This pathogenic form of α-synuclein can be detected by structure-specific antibodies.
In the third step, the physicians then multiply the misfolded α-synuclein forms. Because this accumulation of pathologically altered α-synuclein is what leads to the destruction of the affected nerve cells and ultimately causes the disease.
“The best thing about our work is that we then succeeded in replicating these misfolded α-synuclein forms from Parkinson’s patients,” explains Kluge. This has already been achieved from other tissue samples, but so far never from vesicles obtained from patient blood. “The fact that we were able to detect this formation of aggregates is confirmation that pathological forms of α-synuclein are present in the sample,” Kluge continues.
The team has now published the study results in the specialist magazine “Brain”. According to the researchers, however, the test procedure still has to be further developed before it can be used more widely. That could take years. It is also not yet clear whether the test will also work in the very early stages of the disease or in diseases similar to Parkinson’s.
Despite intensive research, it is not yet known exactly what the cause of the disease is. Genetic as well as environmental factors such as pesticides could play a role in the development. There are also certain risk factors such as severe head and brain injuries, stroke and tumors that are considered risk factors.
The disease cannot yet be cured. However, the symptoms can be treated well with drugs that replace the missing dopamine in the brain.
There are also some disorders that can occur in the early stages of a disease and affect the whole body. These unspecific early symptoms include disorders
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Those affected should go to the doctor if these symptoms occur frequently and there is no obvious explanation for this, such as smoking as the cause of the olfactory disorder. This is especially true for those who have close relatives with Parkinson’s.
If necessary, an examination by a specialist in neurodegenerative diseases is advisable. This is particularly important because starting treatment early can significantly improve everyday life with the incurable nervous disease.