“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,” he 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 to occur.”
“So what has changed is our understanding of why these poisonous byproducts are being produced, which opens up new avenues for research into treatments.”
Fisher said so far, the blood test had been trialled on a small test group of 38 people (29 with Parkinson’s and a control group of nine healthy people), and had reliably detected the hyperactive mitochondria of Parkinson’s patients.
But the researchers have not had the funding to test whether this hyperactivity occurred exclusively in Parkinson’s patients or in all patients with neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.
The US-based Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and its local funding partner, the Shake It Up Australia Foundation, have granted La Trobe more than $640,000 to further develop the diagnostic blood test.
Fisher said the test could be available to the public in as little as five years if sufficient additional funds could be raised for its rapid development.
“We would love to be able to do a longitudinal study on people in their 40s who have not quite entered the age of high risk for Parkinson’s and predict whether they will get it or not and see if it can detect the disease before physical symptoms develop,” he said. “But we’d need thousands of patients and the corresponding funding.”
A neurologist, associate professor Simon Lewis, a world-leading Parkinson’s researcher with the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, was not involved in the study but said if the test proved only able to diagnose those with established Parkinson’s it may not be very useful.