Metabolon, Tracking Parkinson’s Unite to ID Disease Progression

Groups will identify biomarkers which could lead to personalized treatments

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Metabolon is teaming up with Tracking Parkinson’s, the world’s largest long-term study into Parkinson’s disease, to identify novel metabolic biomarkers of disease progression.

The discoveries may lead to personalized treatments and better patient care.

“We are extremely enthusiastic about partnering with Tracking Parkinson’s to further the understanding of the [underlying mechanisms] of Parkinson’s disease,” Karl Bradshaw, PhD, vice-president of corporate development at Metabolon, said in a company press release.

“Tracking Parkinson’s is world-leading in its scope and scale and one of our key ambitions, when the study was designed over a decade ago, was to share an expansive dataset and biosample repository with scientists all over the world to better understand the disease and its origins, and to develop better, targeted treatments,” said Donald Grosset, MD, chief investigator of Tracking Parkinson’s.

“It is extremely rewarding after so many years of data collection to realize that ambition through collaborations with teams like Metabolon,” added Grosset, who is also senior research fellow and professor of neurology at the University of Glasgow.

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While the causes of Parkinson’s remain incompletely understood, both genetics and environmental factors are known to play a role. Their interplay contributes to the disease’s variability in terms symptoms, from motor impairments — the most well-characterized disease feature — to nonmotor symptoms, such as anxiety and cognitive changes, among others.

Entirely funded by Parkinson’s UK, Tracking Parkinson’s, also called PRoBaND study, is an U.K.-based multicenter, observational study that aims to understand this plethora of symptoms by analyzing and integrating clinical data with genetics.

Since its launch in 2012, clinical data and biological samples from more than 2,500 participants have been collected. Participants are categorized into three groups: Parkinson’s patients with recent disease onset (diagnosed within the last three years), patients with early-onset disease (diagnosed before the age of 50), and their siblings. 

Participants are followed for seven years making this group of Parkinson’s patients one of the world’s better-characterized groups, according to the release.

Under the partnership, Metabolon will conduct metabolomics — a global analysis of all metabolites, or small signaling molecules that arise during chemical reactions that occur within a cell — on blood samples collected over time from the study’s participants.

This will allow researchers to match metabolic changes to clinical and genetic variants related to Parkinson’s disease, which may lead to the identification of novel biomarkers of disease progression.

“Exploring small molecules drives our understanding of the biochemistry that leads to the definitive representation of the [symptoms] when tracking neurological diseases like Parkinson’s,” Bradshaw said. “Metabolomics is also an essential element of the multi-omics [comprehensive analysis of different biological datasets] approach to help transform healthcare and improve patient care by understanding disease progression.”

In addition, the analysis of participants’ self-reported sleep patterns and smell loss will allow researchers to identify associations between metabolic changes and symptoms and overall quality of life.

“The Tracking team is very grateful to all of our participants and their families, to our research nurses around the UK, and to our funder Parkinson’s UK for working with us all these years,” Grosset said. “We are very much looking forward to sharing the results from this exciting partnership.”

Earlier this year, Metabolon also partnered with the University of Oxford Parkinson’s Disease Centre to identify metabolic biomarkers of Parkinson’s risk and progression.

The company will perform metabolomics on fluid samples from the Oxford Discovery Cohort, which includes people with early Parkinson’s of unknown cause, people at risk of developing the disease, and healthy people.