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Parkinson's Disease

Blood test to detect Parkinson’s disease could lead to earlier treatment

Australian researchers hope discovery can be used to diagnose disorder – now done through process of elimination

The researchers from La Trobe University believe their blood test will enable doctors to detect Parkinson’s disease with unprecedented reliability. Photograph: Reuters

Researchers have developed the world’s first blood test that can detect the abnormal metabolism of blood cells in people with Parkinson’s disease, which means the blood test could be used to diagnose the disorder.

At present the only way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition, is through ordering a range of tests and scans to rule out other disorders, combined with examining symptoms.

Patients are often diagnosed only after they have developed symptoms and brain cells have already been destroyed. While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, early detection allows treatment with medication and physiotherapy to begin, which may slow the deterioration of motor functions in patients.

Because diagnosing the disease is a process of elimination, and the symptoms mimic those of other neurological disorders, patients are also at risk being diagnosed and treated for the wrong disease.

The group of Australian researchers from La Trobe University believe their blood test will enable doctors to detect Parkinson’s disease with unprecedented reliability and lead to earlier treatment. Their findings are under review by an international medical journal.

The lead researcher on the study, Prof Paul Fisher, said the discovery turned conventional understanding about Parkinson’s on its head and had shocked the researchers.

It has been widely believed that a toxic buildup of byproducts that cause damage to brain cells and Parkinson’s disease were due to a defect in the cell’s mitochondria, where energy metabolism occurs. But Fisher and his team found through their blood tests that there was no damage to the mitochondria of patients with Parkinson’s disease.

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