The world’s first blood test to detect Parkinson’s disease has been developed by Australian researchers, who hope it could be publicly available in five years.
The test will allow early detection of the debilitating brain disorder, which has no cure, is sometimes misdiagnosed and can take years of consultations until it is diagnosed.
Currently it is only diagnosed through a neurological examination, but by the time patients develop symptoms and have the test, large numbers of vital brain cells have been destroyed.
“If you know much earlier, you have a chance of intervening much earlier and also improving lifestyle,” La Trobe University researcher Professor Paul Fisher told AAP.
The researchers measured the activity of mitochondria, “the small energy powerhouses in cells”, in 29 people with Parkinson’s and nine without the disease.
“We had expected there would be a reduction in the activity of the Parkinson’s cells, but we actually found the reverse,” Prof Fisher said.
“They were four times more active than in the healthy group – they were working four times as hard.”
An estimated 80,000 Australians and more than 6.3 million people worldwide are affected by the disease which can severely impair mobility and quality of life.
“We now need to find out how specific this test is, does it just apply to Parkinson’s or will it detect other diseases such as Alzheimer’s?
“We also need to find out how early we can diagnose the disease.”
Diagnosis for those with the disease in the study ranged from two to more than 30 years ago.
“The marker for the disease was stable in that time – so if you project backwards in time, it might be possible to detect it before there are clinical symptoms.
“The earlier you know, the more you can improve the quality of life in patients.”
The findings that the cells were more active could lead scientists to “look in different directions” for treatments, he added.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and its Australian funding partner, the Shake It Up Australia Foundation, are now funding an expanded trial of the blood test.