Parkinson's disease

Researchers develop blood test to detect Parkinson’s seven years before symptoms in ‘major step forward’

Researchers from University College London (UCL) have taken a “major step forward” in the fight against Parkinson’s, after they developed a new blood test that can accurately predict the disease up to seven years before the onset of symptoms.

The research team used AI to analyse eight biomarkers that have elevated concentrations in those with Parkinson’s and diagnosed the condition with a 100% accuracy.

In a bid to try to strike earlier in the disease’s progression, researchers looked at 72 patients with rapid eye movement behaviour disorder (iRBD). Experts say that approximately three-quarters (75-80%) of those with iRBD will go on to develop a synucleinopathy — a family of disorders which includes Parkinson’s.

When the research team used machine learning to investigate those with iRBD, it found that nearly four in five (79%) had the same profile as someone who had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

After a period of follow-up over 10 years, UCL says that its team could correctly predict patients developing the disease up to seven years before any symptoms.

Further studies are currently underway looking at the test’s accuracy when given other biomarkers — such as those with an elevated Parkinson’s risk due to mutations in the ‘LRRK2’ and ‘GBA’ genes, which cause Gaucher disease.

The team is also now hoping to secure funding to create a simpler blood test where lab scientists investigate just a drop of blood and potentially predict the onset of Parkinson’s even earlier than the seven-year timeline.

"By determining eight proteins in the blood, we can identify potential Parkinson's patients several years in advance,” said research co-author, Dr Michael Barti who conducted the research in collaboration with UCL from Germany’s University Medical Center Goettingen.

He added: “This means that drug therapies could potentially be given at an earlier stage, which could possibly slow down disease progression or even prevent it from occurring.

“We have not only developed a test, but can diagnose the disease based on markers that are directly linked to processes such as inflammation and degradation of non-functional proteins. So these markers represent possible targets for new drug treatments.”

Professor David Dexter comment

The research was funded by a range of partners, including:

  • EU Horizon 2020
  • Parkinson’s UK
  • National Institute for Health and Care Research Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre
  • Szeben-Peto Foundation

“At present we are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and we need to start experimental treatments before patients develop symptoms,” explained senior author, Professor Kevin Mills, of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.

“Therefore, we set out to use state-of-the-art technology to find new and better biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease and develop them into a test that we can translate into any large NHS laboratory.

“With sufficient funding, we hope that this may be possible within two years.”

Research director at Parkinson’s UK, Professor David Dexter, added: “This research, co-funded by Parkinson’s UK, 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 much less invasive than a lumbar puncture, which is being used more and more in clinical research.

“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.”

Image credit: iStock

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NHE May/June 2024

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