New blood test shows promise for detecting Parkinson’s

The new test can detect problems with mitochondria in blood cells and could one day be used to diagnose Parkinson’s.

Research published today in Science Translational Medicine shows that a new blood test focused on detecting DNA damage in the mitochondria could one day be used to diagnose Parkinson’s.

Mitochondria are the energy producing batteries that power cells, and we know that they stop working properly in the brain cells affected in Parkinson's.

Mitochondria contain their own DNA, and earlier studies in post-mortem brain tissue from people with Parkinson’s have revealed that mitochondrial DNA becomes damaged because of the condition.

This new research indicates that this mitochondrial DNA damage can also be detected in blood cells from people with Parkinson’s and could potentially be further developed to provide a definitive diagnostic test, something that currently doesn’t exist for Parkinson’s.

Towards better, earlier diagnosis

Currently, most people are diagnosed with Parkinson's based on symptoms alone. 

The early signs of Parkinson's can be varied. They can include sleep problems, constipation, loss of sense of smell, changes in mood as well as difficulties with movement, so diagnosis is far from straightforward. In a recent Parkinson's UK poll we found that as many as a quarter of people are initially misdiagnosed.

Developing better diagnostic tests is an extremely active area of research with lots of different possible routes currently being investigated such as eye scans, tests which analyse sebum (the oily substance on the surface of the skin), and tests that analyse proteins in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

Detecting Parkinson's earlier and being able to diagnose it accurately using a biological test would be a major step forward.

It would provide a much smoother and improved  experience for the thousands of people who are diagnosed with the condition every year, enabling them to access treatment and support sooner.

Detecting Parkinson's early also holds hope for stopping or preventing the condition in the future when we have treatments that can stop the progression.

Next steps

Claire Bale, Associate Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, comments:

"Further work is now needed to understand and develop the full potential of this new test. We are hopeful that definitive biological tests for Parkinson's - whether it is this new mitochondrial blood test or another - will be ready to be used within the next few years, not only to help provide earlier and more accurate diagnosis, but also to help monitor the progress of the condition and test the effectiveness of new treatments."

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