New Discovery Measures Parkinson’s Progression Using MRI

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by Isaura Santos |

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Researchers from the University of Florida have uncovered a biomarker that reveals the progression of Parkinson’s disease in the brain. This finding opens a new path toward improved diagnosis and treatment of the degenerative disease.

The interdisciplinary research team compared brain images of Parkinson’s patients with images belonging to a control group for 12 months. This procedure led the team to focus its attention on a specific brain area called the substance nigra, which is affected as the disease progresses. The discovery, which was made using MRI, has led to the development of the first MRI-based method for evaluating Parkinson’s progression and could be extremely useful in helping physicians make key treatment decisions. The new method may also support the development of new Parkinson’s therapies in the future, according to David Vaillancourt, the study’s author.

“The Parkinson’s drugs available today help reduce symptoms. They don’t slow the progression of the disease, which is the major unmet medical need. We’ve provided a tool to test promising new therapies that could address progression,” Vaillancourt said.

According to their recent findings, the substance nigra of an individual suffering with Parkinson’s contains more “free water” or fluid unconstrained by brain tissue, which is likely due to the degeneration related with the condition. The study was recently published in the Brain journal and it uses diffusion imaging, which is a type of MRI to prove that free-water levels augment disease progression.The free-water level is a unique predictor of bradykinesia and its advancement. Bradykinesia is the slowing of movements that is quite common in Parkinson’s patients.

Doctors usually diagnose the condition through the evaluation of patients’ symptoms and through the way they respond to drugs; a method that could be improved since this new indicator could help to distinguish Parkinson’s from other similar diseases. Ultimately, improved clinical trials could also be designed in the near future.

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has announced that it is collaborating with The Edmond J. Safra Foundation to select four academic centers across the United States and one more in Canada to host the inaugural class of the Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders.