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Scientists Develop New Blood Test Could Predict Parkinson’s Seven Years Before Symptom Onset

Researchers at University College London and the University Medical Centre Goettingen have developed a blood test that can identify Parkinson's disease as early as seven years before symptoms appear. This surprising discovery was made public in an experimental study that was published in Nature Communications and may completely change how Parkinson's disease is diagnosed and treated. This is particularly true in India and other LIMCs, where the illness is a significant burden.

Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition that strikes about 10 million people worldwide and advances quickly. Neuronal death in the substantia nigra region of the brain causes this ageing condition, affecting over 1.2 million people in India. Symptoms, including tremors, decreased movement, and memory loss, arise when the protein alpha-synuclein accumulates and destroys the nerve cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. 

These days, treatments try to raise dopamine levels once symptoms have appeared. However, early identification and prognosis may lead to the development of drugs that protect dopamine-producing brain cells, therefore slowing or stopping the disease's progress. 

The main researcher in the study, Professor Kevin Mills of the Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health at UCL, underlined the value of an early diagnosis. "As new Parkinson's disease drugs become available, we must diagnose patients before they exhibit symptoms. Since we cannot grow new brain cells, we must safeguard the ones we already have.

Utilising artificial intelligence (AI), the study examined eight distinct blood indicators. The AI system correctly recognised Parkinson's disease and predicted the possibility of disease progression in cases of rapid eye movement behaviour disorder (iRBD). Because this condition frequently progresses to Parkinson's, the test was able to identify the condition up to seven years before symptoms appeared.

"We can identify potential Parkinson's patients several years in advance by determining eight proteins in the blood," says co-first author Dr. Michael Bartl of the University Medical Centre Goettingen. This allows the early start of drug therapy, which may delay or stop the disease's course. 

Parkinson's disease is becoming more common in India and other countries with low to medium incomes. Noncommunicable neurological diseases like Parkinson's greatly impact disability-adjusted life years, according to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease Study. Some places find Parkinson's disease more difficult to diagnose and treat because of a shortage of healthcare resources. 

Coauthor Professor Kailash Bhatia of the Queen Square Institute of Neurology at UCL underlined the test's potential effect. "Currently, we are evaluating the accuracy of the test using samples from a group at high risk of developing Parkinson disease." We are aiming to develop a low-cost, simple blood spot test, particularly in places with limited medical facilities, through our fundraising drive.

This new blood test could transform the sector by providing an easy-to-use, non-invasive method of identifying early-stage Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's UK Director of Research, Professor David Dexter, said this study represents a major breakthrough in the hunt for a reliable and user-friendly Parkinson's diagnostic tool. The intriguing wave of recent studies devoted to creating a straightforward tool to diagnose and evaluate Parkinson's disease finds support in these results.

With Parkinson's disease research progressing, more and more people may find hope in this test; this is particularly true in countries like India, where early diagnosis and treatment significantly improve the lives of those at risk. 

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