Parkinson’s Biomarker Discovered In Skin

The discovery may lead to earlier diagnoses.

protein molecule image via shutterstock

protein molecule image via shutterstock

Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center have discovered a protein biomarker for Parkinson’s in the skin of Parkinson’s disease patients through a clinical trial.

Although Parkinson’s affects millions of people across the country, there is no standardized practice for early testing and diagnosis. Often, doctors can only diagnose Parkinson’s once symptoms begin to manifest, which is usually too late to try and slow the disease’s progression. Now, with the discovery of this protein, early diagnosis—and therefore earlier treatment—can improve the lives of Parkinson’s patients.

The study, published in the journal, Neurology, explains the results of a clinical trial involving 20 Parkinson’s patients and 14 age and gender matched control patients. All of the participants underwent regular examinations and testing throughout the course of the trial, as well as skin biopsies in three different places on the leg.

The results showed that high levels of a protein, called alpha-synuclein, exist in the samples of skin taken from Parkinson’s patients. This protein is common throughout the body and—although researchers don’t yet know what its function is—presents in high levels in protein clumps which are considered a marker for Parkinson’s.

Dr. Roy Freeman, senior author of the paper and Director of the Autonomic and Peripheral Nerve Laboratory at Beth Israel, said in a press release:

“Alpha-synuclein deposition occurs early in the course of Parkinson’s disease and precedes the onset of clinical symptoms…The skin can provide an accessible window to the nervous system and based on these clinical observations, we decided to test whether examination of the nerves in a skin biopsy could be used to identify a [Parkinson’s] biomarker.”

The authors of the paper hope that this discovery will give doctors better guidelines with which to make Parkinson’s diagnoses in the future.

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