Blood test shows promise for identifying Parkinson’s before movement symptoms

Research co-funded by Parkinson’s UK finds a new way to potentially improve diagnosis and monitoring of Parkinson’s. 

Researchers at University College London have developed a test that was 100% accurate in identifying Parkinson’s when comparing blood samples from 99 people with Parkinson’s and 36 people without the condition.

The study used artificial intelligence alongside the analysis of blood samples to develop and fine tune a test based on the levels of 8 circulating proteins that they found to be early markers of Parkinson’s.

Predicting Parkinson’s 7 years before diagnosis

The study also looked at blood samples from people with idiopathic REM sleep behaviour disorder (iRBD), who are known to be at a higher risk of going on to develop Parkinson’s. The test identified that 79% of the 54 iRBD samples had a similar read out to the samples from people already diagnosed with Parkinson’s, offering a prediction to who might go on to develop the condition.

The researchers have followed the iRBD patients over 7 years and the predictions so far match those that have now formerly received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s. This evidence suggests that the test could be used to identify Parkinson’s 7 years before movement symptoms appear and someone receives a diagnosis.

Work is now ongoing to verify the test to see how it could be used as a tool in research and the clinic.

Read the full scientific paper in the journal of Nature Communications.

Overcoming challenges with diagnosing Parkinson’s

One of the lead researchers, whose mother had iRBD and went on to develop Parkinson’s, Professor Kevin Mills (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health), said:

"As new therapies become available to treat Parkinson’s, we need to diagnose patients before they have developed the symptoms. We cannot regrow our brain cells and therefore we need to protect those that we have.

"At present we are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and we need to start experimental treatments before patients develop symptoms. Therefore, we set out to use state-of-the-art technology to find new and better biomarkers for Parkinson’s and develop them into a test. Parkinson’s UK funding was integral to the development of this test."

What does this mean for people with Parkinson’s? 

Professor David Dexter, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said: 

"This research represents a major step forward in the search for a definitive and patient friendly diagnostic test for Parkinson’s. Finding biological markers that can be identified and measured in the blood is less invasive than a lumbar puncture which is being used more and more in clinical research to trial new treatments in people with Parkinson’s. 

"With more work, it may be possible that this blood based test could distinguish between Parkinson’s and other conditions that have some early similarities, such as Multiple Systems Atrophy or Dementia with Lewy Bodies. This is an important next step.

 "The findings add to an exciting flurry of recent activity towards finding a simple way to test for and measure Parkinson’s."