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Simple blood test could help develop cure for Parkinson's disease

[Sept. 4, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

For over 10 million Parkinson's sufferers across the globe, the days of anxiously awaiting visible symptoms may soon be over. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

For over 10 million Parkinson's sufferers across the globe, the days of anxiously awaiting visible symptoms may soon be over. A groundbreaking blood test developed by Duke Health neuroscientists may pave the way for early diagnosis and treatment. As the second-most rampant neurodegenerative disease, only trailing Alzheimer's, this development heralds a monumental stride for the global medical community.

Published in the influential Science Translational Medicine journal, this revolutionary research not only sheds light on Parkinson’s disease but also potentially overhauls its diagnosis and treatment approach.


Parkinson's disease has, for a long time, remained an enigma. Diagnosis is primarily based on clinical symptoms, often presenting themselves long after substantial neurological damage.

Dr. Laurie Sanders, the senior author of the study and an associate professor in Duke School of Medicine’s departments of Neurology and Pathology, comments on the diagnostic dilemma, “Currently, Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed largely based on clinical symptoms after significant neurological damage has already occurred."


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The newly proposed blood test promises a future where early diagnosis and timely interventions can slow, or even halt, the disease's progression. Sanders adds, "A simple blood test would allow us to diagnose the disease earlier and start therapies sooner.”

The profound implications of this test could also accelerate research in Parkinson's treatments. Sanders emphasizes, "A clear-cut diagnosis would accurately identify patients who could participate in drug studies, leading to the development of better treatments and potentially even cures.”


The biomarker identified for this diagnostic tool zeroes in on mitochondrial DNA damage. For context, mitochondria serve as energy powerhouses within our cells. While they contain their own distinct DNA, this DNA is vulnerable to damage, independent of the nuclear DNA that forms most of an organism's genetic code.

Laurie Sanders, PhD, Duke School of Medicine

Historical research has shown a correlation between mitochondrial DNA damage and an escalated risk of Parkinson's. The Duke team, in its previous studies, reported elevated levels of mitochondrial DNA damage in the brain tissues of deceased Parkinson’s patients.


The Game-Changing Methodology:

Using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology, a powerful method that can amplify minuscule amounts of DNA, the researchers crafted an assay that could detect heightened levels of mitochondrial DNA damage in Parkinson's patients' blood cells compared to healthy individuals.

LRRK2 kinase inhibition reverts mtDNA damage in idiopathic PD patient–derived lymphoblastoid cells. (CREDIT: Science)

Furthermore, this blood test showcased its potential in identifying those with the LRRK2 genetic mutation – a known increased risk factor for Parkinson’s. The assay demonstrated its prowess in discerning Parkinson's patients, regardless of their LRRK2 mutation status.

Beyond diagnosis, the researchers delved into treatment possibilities. Through further analyses, the test pinpointed diminished mitochondrial DNA damage in cells treated with an LRRK2 inhibitor than untreated counterparts. This indicates a significant potential: the blood test might identify patients who could benefit from specific treatments, even in the absence of the LRRK2 mutation.


“Our hope is that this assay could not only diagnose Parkinson’s disease, but also identify drugs that reverse or halt mitochondrial DNA damage and the disease process,” says Sanders.

LRRK2 function alters mtDNA lesion frequency in mice. The frequency of mtDNA lesions was analyzed in the ventral midbrain derived from both heterozygous and homozygous Lrrk2. (CREDIT: Science)

As the research unveils a promising horizon for Parkinson's patients, the journey isn't over. Sanders stresses the need for the future, "Our research will include further testing of the assay in samples from patients at the earliest disease stages, before symptoms even manifest.”


For the 10 million Parkinson's patients worldwide, this development isn't just scientific - it's personal. A simple blood test could redefine their future, opening doors to earlier diagnosis, improved treatments, and a renewed hope. As Sanders rightly puts it, “This disease takes a terrible toll on people, and we are still just treating the symptoms. It’s important to get new, effective treatments over the finish line.”

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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