For many of the millions around the world currently living with Parkinson's disease, their diagnosis came too late. The degenerative disease and its tell-tale symptoms have long plagued aging populations around the world, but now, science believes it may have a way to catch the illness earlier, offering greater opportunities to advance treatment.
Australia's La Trobe University has developed a blood test that researchers claim "will enable doctors to detect with unprecedented reliability the abnormal metabolism of blood cells in people with Parkinson's." This, the team says, will allow doctors to provide their patients with treatment options at an earlier stage, ultimately allowing for better quality of life for those living with this condition.
Today, it is estimated that over 6.3 million people around the world suffer from the disease. Worse yet, diagnosis is often difficult, as the current practice is no better than a process of elimination -- often, the Guardian points out, patients are diagnosed or even treated for a different disease altogether before doctors recognize their mistake. But now, there may be a solution.
Key to the group's research has been the discovery that damaged mitochondria, previously thought to be the culprit behind Parkinson's, actually has nothing to do with the disease.
"Based on the current literature we were expecting reduced oxygen consumption in the mitochondria, which leads to a build-up of toxic byproducts, but what we saw was the exact opposite," Fisher said. "We were able to show the mitochondria were perfectly normal but were working four times as hard, which also leads to increased production of poisonous byproducts. So what has changed is our understanding of why these poisonous byproducts are being produced, which opens up new avenues for research into treatments."
Thus far, the blood test has been tested on 38 patients, 29 of whom have the disease and nine of whom serve as a control group, and the results have been promising.
"This is a really exciting discovery. Parkinson's is a debilitating disorder and currently there is no cure. However, early diagnosis and treatment could enable better outcomes and a greater quality of life for people with the condition, which will be of great benefit to sufferers and their families," La Trobe Professor of Microbiology Paul Fisher said in a press release regarding the discovery.
"It is even possible that the blood test could be developed to detect all types of neuro-degenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's," he added.