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Researchers Discover Blood Marker for Parkinson’s Disease Detection Seven Years Before Symptoms Appear

Researchers have found a blood marker that shows the presence of Parkinson’s disease seven years before the onset of symptoms. If the results of this small study can be replicated in a larger population, a simple blood test could be developed to identify people at risk.

With Parkinson’s affecting approximately 10 million people worldwide, there is a need to develop better treatment and prevention strategies. One of the reasons this has proven difficult is that people with Parkinson’s risk are not enough to try mitigation strategies.

So University College London biochemist Jenny Hällqvist and her colleagues used machine learning models to discover eight proteins in our blood that change as Parkinson’s disease progresses.

By the time the average person is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, they have lost more than 60 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra.

Before this nervous disorder begins to cause physical symptoms, there is an initial stage with more subtle effects. These include mood disorders and sleep disorders known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep disorder.

Comparing the blood of 99 people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s, 72 people with REM sleep disorder, and 26 healthy controls, researchers found 23 biomarkers.

They then narrowed these candidates down to the most reliable blood marker combinations using machine learning models. In the end, the eight biomarkers identified allowed the researchers to predict with 80 percent accuracy that patients with REM sleep disorder will develop Parkinson’s disease – before physical symptoms appear.

The biomarkers identified by the researchers are proteins involved in inflammation, blood clotting and biochemical pathways of cell growth. Some of them increased along with the severity of symptoms and reduced cognitive performance.

Two of the biomarkers, HSPA5 and HSPA1L, indicate stress in proteins produced by a cell organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum. Aberrant syn-synuclein protein, a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease, has been shown to localize to the endoplasmic reticulum.

“This powerful combination of several well-selected biomarkers with state-of-the-art machine learning bioinformatics enables the use of a panel of eight biomarkers that can distinguish early Parkinson’s disease from healthy controls,” said Hällqvist and the team.

Although cerebrospinal fluid testing can detect early signs of Parkinson’s disease, it requires an invasive procedure that is not easily accessible. A simple blood test, on the other hand, will allow early diagnosis and long-term follow-up for more people.

But while some previous studies have tried to use blood tests, skin washing or eye tests that can detect the early stages of Parkinson’s, none have been put into clinical practice until now.

Such a test would be very useful for researchers working to develop preventive treatments, hoping to slow the progression of Parkinson’s in patients before the devastating neurodegenerative disease occurs. The research was published in Nature Communications.

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