Researchers Get $1.37M Grant to Assess Early Diagnostic Test

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
early blood test | Parkinson's News Today | grants | illustration of piggy bank and coins

Australian researchers have received a $1.37-million grant to assess the potential of an early diagnostic test for Parkinson’s disease.

The test, developed by scientists at the UNSW Medicine & Health’s EMBL Australia Node in Single Molecule Science, is able to quantify the number of alpha-synuclein aggregates — a hallmark of Parkinson’s — at early stages. Moreover, the results are obtained in hours compared to days with more traditional assays.

Recommended Reading
brain ultrasound | Parkinson's News Today | motor disability and gait | illustration of person's brain

Vitamin D May Help Brain Cells Clear Toxic Protein in Parkinson’s

“Currently, clinicians rely on a combination of expensive scans and assessment of signs and symptoms — including tremors and impaired mobility — to make a diagnosis,” Emma Sierecki, PhD, lead UNSW researcher, said in a press release. “Patients often learn of their diagnosis when the disease is more advanced, and sometimes Parkinson’s disease is only discovered during an autopsy.”

“With reliable, early detection, doctors could better manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and potentially slow the progression of disease,” she added.

The test uses a single-molecule counting technique, called single-molecule spectroscopy, to quantify the number of alpha-synuclein aggregates in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

The 2.5-year grant, which was awarded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and Shake It Up Australia Foundation, will allow the researchers to assess the test’s specificity and reliability by using a collection of clinical samples from Parkinson’s patients and healthy controls from four different research sites.

The funding will also allow the team to conduct further research and go beyond their early findings and refine their test to be used with blood samples, which are more easily collected and less invasive. The CSF is usually collected by a lumbar puncture, or spinal tap.

“While a sensitive test using spinal fluid is a step forward, one that is based on a simple blood test rather than relying on complicated spinal taps would enable much simpler and safer sample collection, and dramatically increase utility,” said Vlado Perkovic, PhD, dean of UNSW Medicine & Health. “The team already have encouraging early indications and I look forward to watching the progress of this much needed diagnostic.”

The new test would help monitor disease progression by quantifying the amount of alpha-synuclein aggregates over time. This could aid in assessing the effectiveness of novel candidate therapies in clinical trials.

“The major problem with other assays is that they are not quantitative. There is no correlation between a-syn [alpha-synuclein ] detected and anything else — not disease stage or progression,” Sierecki said.

Recommended Reading
Parkinson's disease speech | Parkinson's News Today | speech problems | illustration of doctor and patient speaking

Faster Increase in Symptom Severity Tied to Older Age at Disease Onset

Early detection would also allow patients to receive therapies when the disease is at its onset, when they’re more likely to be effective.

“With reliable, early detection, doctors could better manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and potentially slow the progression of disease. With the right treatment, they may in the future, even be able to prevent the onset of clinical signs but a single diagnostic test has so far remained elusive,” Sierecki said.

“It’s a shot at doing something that makes a difference in the real-world,” she added. “If we could have a diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease through this technology, that would be absolutely amazing.”