First test to detect Parkinson's disease spots tell-tale signs in saliva glands
Doctors say tissue sample taken from the saliva glands could reveal abnormal protein, which is tell-tale sign
But charity warns the study was small and too invasive to become a routine test
17:06 GMT, 11 January 2013
17:14 GMT, 11 January 2013
Former boxer Muhammad Ali is one of world's best-known people to suffer from Parkinson's disease, for which is there is no diagnostic test
Scientists have developed the first diagnostic test to detect Parkinson's disease.
The new test is based on taking a tissue sample from the saliva glands found under the lower jaw.
Currently, there are no tools to detect the devastating condition that mainly affects people aged over fifty.
Instead doctors base a diagnosis on common symptoms, which include slowness, stiffness of muscles and tremors.
Described as a 'big step forward' for treatment, scientists now suggest a portion of a person's saliva gland can show up the illness.
Dr Charles Adler, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic, Arizona, said: 'There is currently no diagnostic test for Parkinson's disease.
'We have previously shown in autopsies of Parkinson's patients the abnormal proteins associated with Parkinson's are consistently found in the submandibular saliva glands, found under the lower jaw.
'Making a diagnosis in living patients is a big step forward in our effort to understand and better treat patients.'
Parkinson's disease is a chronic neurological disorder. People with the condition don't have enough of a chemical called
dopamine because some nerve cells in their brain have died.
This affects the way the brain co-ordinates the movements of the muscles in different parts of the body. It is progressive to symptoms get worse over time.
Famous sufferers include former boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J Fox.
The latest study, which will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's annual meeting in San Diego in March, involved a group of elderly patients who had Parkinson's for an average of twelve years. They had responded to medication and would not have known saliva gland disorders.
Biopsies were taken of the submandibular and the minor saliva glands in the lower lip and the tissues tested for evidence of the abnormal Parkinson's protein.
Study co author Dr Thomas Beach, from the Banner Sun Health Research Institute in the US, said: 'This procedure will provide a much more accurate diagnosis of Parkinson's disease than what is now available.
A brain scan of a person suffering with Parkinson's disease. The new test is based on doing a biopsy on the saliva glands
'One of the greatest potential
impacts of this finding is on clinical trials, as at the present time
some patients entered into Parkinson's clinical trials do not
necessarily have Parkinson's disease and this is a big impediment to
testing new therapies.'
abnormal Parkinson's protein was detected in nine of the eleven
patients who had enough tissue to study. Although Parkinson's cannot be
cured, medications may markedly improve symptoms
Commenting on the research, Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Innovation at Parkinson’s UK said: 'Parkinson’s is a complex condition, meaning that it can sometimes take years to accurately diagnose it.
'This new research suggests that a protein – commonly found when Parkinson’s develops in the brain – can also be found in the saliva glands of those with the condition.
'The researchers suggest that a simple biopsy of these glands to check if the protein is present could quickly reveal if Parkinson’s is present.
'Interestingly, this study was only carried out with a small number of people with Parkinson’s, and not all of those in the trial were found to have the protein, meaning that much more research is needed to be done to find out what had triggered this difference in results.
'Although this is an interesting concept, it is far too soon to tell whether this potential new test could have a place in clinical practice.
'Taking gland biopsies from lips is an invasive procedure for people to go through, making it difficult to understand how this could become a routine way of diagnosing Parkinson’s.
'A much larger follow up study is needed to find out if this new test could ultimately become a reliable tool for diagnosing Parkinson’s.'