Detection of Parkinson’s Disease 30 Years Prior to Symptom Onset Achieved by Scientists

by Henrik Andersen
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Early Parkinson's Detection

A recent study has uncovered a method for early detection of Parkinson’s disease, potentially 30 years before the emergence of symptoms. Researchers utilize a specific biomarker in conjunction with PET scans for this purpose. This innovative approach allows for more sensitive monitoring of neurodegeneration compared to existing techniques and highlights Rapid Eye Movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) as a crucial early sign of Parkinson’s. These insights offer the possibility of diagnosing and beginning treatment much earlier, perhaps a decade sooner than what is currently achievable.

The team at The Florey and Austin Health in Melbourne, Australia, has shown the feasibility of identifying early signs of Parkinson’s disease around two to three decades before symptom manifestation. This significant advancement could lead to the development of early detection programs and proactive therapeutic measures before extensive damage ensues.

At The Florey Institute and Austin Health, the research team has demonstrated the ability to detect early signs of Parkinson’s disease between 20 and 30 years before symptoms develop. This pioneering discovery could facilitate early screening efforts and proactive treatments well before irreversible damage occurs.

Florey Professor Kevin Barnham explained that Parkinson’s disease, a severe neurodegenerative disorder, is often perceived as a disease of old age. However, it actually begins in midlife and can remain unnoticed for many years.

Professor Barnham stated, “Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is challenging until symptoms become pronounced. By this stage, up to 85 percent of the brain’s neurons responsible for motor coordination may be lost. Consequently, many treatments may not be effective.” He added, “Our ultimate aim is to discover a method for much earlier detection of the disease and treat individuals before significant damage occurs.”

Advanced Diagnostic Techniques

A study published in Neurology detailed how the biomarker F-AV-133, used with positron emission tomography (PET) scans, can diagnose Parkinson’s disease and precisely track neurodegeneration.

In the study conducted in Melbourne, Florey Professor Chris Rowe and his team at Austin Health conducted scans on 26 Parkinson’s patients, a control group of 12 individuals, and 11 people with Rapid Eye Movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD), a strong Parkinson’s indicator.

The participants underwent two PET scans with a two-year gap. The study revealed:

  • No notable changes in clinical symptoms in any participant based on current Parkinson’s disease assessments.
  • However, the PET scans indicated “significant neuronal loss” in three critical brain areas in those with the disease, showing that F-AV-133 is a more effective tool for monitoring neurodegeneration than current methods.

Mathematical modeling estimated:

  • A total of around 33 years of gradual neuronal loss in Parkinson’s disease.
  • This loss happens for about 10.5 years before the disease is detectable via PET scan.
  • Following detectability by PET scan, it takes another six and a half years for motor symptoms to appear.
  • After physical symptoms emerge, clinical diagnosis typically takes another three years.
  • This means neuronal loss occurs for approximately 22.5 years before clinical symptoms are sufficient for diagnosis.

Professor Barnham emphasized that these findings could lead to the development of screening protocols for diagnosing and treating Parkinson’s disease up to a decade earlier than presently possible and could aid in selecting patients for clinical trials.

Understanding RBD

RBD, or Rapid Eye Movement Behavioural Disorder, is characterized by individuals shouting or moving violently in their sleep while experiencing intense and unpleasant dreams. RBD results from a lack of muscle atonia (sleep paralysis). Notably, 90 percent of RBD patients will develop a parkinsonian condition, and half of those with Parkinson’s exhibit RBD symptoms. RBD serves as a significant early warning sign of Parkinson’s disease. Individuals experiencing RBD are advised to consult a sleep specialist and/or neurologist.

Reference: “Using 18F-AV-133 VMAT2 PET Imaging to Monitor Progressive Nigrostriatal Degeneration in Parkinson Disease” by Leah C. Beauchamp, Vincent Dore, Victor L. Villemagne, SanSan Xu, David Finkelstein, Kevin J. Barnham, and Christopher Rowe, dated 28 November 2023, in Neurology.
DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000207748

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Early Parkinson’s Detection

What is the new method for detecting Parkinson’s disease?

Researchers have developed a technique to detect Parkinson’s disease up to 30 years before symptoms manifest. This method involves using a biomarker in conjunction with PET scans, providing a more sensitive approach to tracking neurodegeneration. Rapid Eye Movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) has been identified as a significant early sign of Parkinson’s.

How does Rapid Eye Movement sleep behavior disorder relate to Parkinson’s?

Rapid Eye Movement sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is now recognized as a crucial early indicator of Parkinson’s disease. Individuals with RBD often act out vivid, sometimes violent dreams due to a lack of muscle atonia during sleep. Notably, about 90% of people with RBD will develop a parkinsonian condition, making it a significant warning sign.

What are the implications of this research for Parkinson’s treatment?

This research paves the way for earlier diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease, potentially a decade earlier than currently possible. Early detection could allow for interventions before significant neurological damage occurs, improving patient outcomes.

How effective is the new diagnostic technique compared to current methods?

The new technique, which uses the biomarker F-AV-133 along with PET scans, has proven to be more sensitive in monitoring neurodegeneration compared to existing methods. It can detect neuronal loss in key brain regions in individuals with Parkinson’s disease, which is not as evident in current clinical symptom assessments.

What does the study suggest about the progression of Parkinson’s disease?

The study suggests that neuronal loss in Parkinson’s disease occurs over approximately 33 years, with about 10.5 years of this loss happening before the disease becomes detectable on a PET scan. After PET scan detectability, it takes about another six and a half years before motor symptoms appear, followed by a further three years until clinical diagnosis is confirmed.

More about Early Parkinson’s Detection

  • Parkinson’s Disease Early Detection Study
  • Rapid Eye Movement Disorder and Parkinson’s
  • Advanced Diagnostic Techniques for Parkinson’s
  • Neurology Journal Parkinson’s Research Article
  • Florey Institute Parkinson’s Research

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