Researchers Model Possible Test for Early Parkinson’s Diagnosis

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Researchers may have found a test to diagnose neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease earlier, according to a new study published in the journal Physical Review Applied.

The study, “Fluctuations in Protein Aggregation: Design of Preclinical Screening for Early Diagnosis of Neurodegenerative Disease,” was conducted by Giulio Costantini, from the University of Milan, and his colleagues.

Several neurological diseases are characterized by the accumulation or aggregation of dysfunctional proteins, such as amyloid beta (Alzheimer’s disease) or alpha-synuclein (Parkinson’s disease), which cause neuronal death and brain dysfunction. The diseases are detectable when more advanced stages have developed in patients, but the new solutions might detect the protein abnormalities much earlier.

One promising option may be the use of microfluidic devices that are already employed to monitor protein aggregation in samples from patients already diagnosed. For preclinical diagnosis, the system would be amplified on small quantities of protein aggregates.

For detecting the onset of aggregation, while avoiding the risk of false detection, the researchers used a three-dimensional computational model to see protein aggregation in small samples and any fluctuations on the protein concentration dependent on the sample volume.

The analysis will allow the team to design and validate a preclinical screening test based on the quantification of the exact number of aggregates initially present in the given sample.

“This is the first proof of concept ‘in silico’ that could guide the development of a test ‘in vitro’ to identify neurodegenerative disease before symptoms appear,” Caterina la Porta, the leading author of the study, said in a news release.

The earlier the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, the better for the patient because earlier treatment will likely delay disease progression.

Although there are no known therapies to cure the disease, several drugs used to treat other health conditions are currently undergoing trials as promising therapies for Parkinson’s. Examples include the diabetes drugs Victoza (liraglutide), and Byetta/Bydureon (exenatide).

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