Parkinson’s Researchers Looking into Easiest and Best Ways of Diagnosing Disease in Early Stages

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Parkinson's disease diagnosis

Early diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease (PD) are crucial to halting its progression, since the process of neuron destruction is irreversible once it starts. However, only 50 percent of patients are correctly diagnosed with this neurodegenerative condition during a first visit with a neurologist.

An international team of researchers, led by Dr. David Munoz, a scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science at St. Michael’s Hospital, are working to determine which medical test would most accurately and conveniently diagnose Parkinson’s at an early stage. The research is partly funded by the Physicians’ Services Incorporated Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

According to Dr. Munoz, physicians might be able to diagnose Parkinson’s disease using one of three approaches, each centered on the presence of atypical proteins in areas outside the brain.

The first is to perform a biopsy of the submandibular gland, however, neither doctors nor patients are keen to endure this invasive and complex procedure. For this reason, the scientists are studying two other diagnostic approaches, one that tests for Parkinson’s when patients are undergoing a colonoscopy, and another that uses skin biopsy, a procedure performed by family doctors testing for skin diseases.

By looking at tests conducted at the time of diagnosis, the researchers are hoping to determine which approach is most accurate for Parkinson’s. According to Dr. Munoz, testing for Parkinson’s during a colonoscopy would be beneficial because it would be part of the common colorectal cancer screening test, and neurons are present in the gastrointestinal tract.

The benefit of a skin biopsy, he said, is that it is usually performed by family doctors in a clinical setting.

“Eventually we hope to have a way of changing the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which at this point is subject to a 50-per-cent error rate,” Dr. Munoz said in a press release. “Imagine trying to diagnose someone with diabetes without being able to measure their blood sugar.”

Dr. Munoz holds an MD from Navarre University in Spain and an MSc in Pathology from Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada. He is a neuropathologist and head of the Division of Pathology, at St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, and a professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto.

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