Parkinson’s disease affects up to a million Americans, and doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases each year. It is the second most common neurodegenerative disease (after Alzheimer’s). Unfortunately it’s a tough disease to diagnose early, since symptoms can take years to make themselves known. Eventually people with Parkinson’s disease experience a decreasing ability to regulate their:
- and movements.
In the past, constipation was the key symptom that could help catch the disease early; now new research explores an unprecedented detection option.
New Research Shows Promise
Italian researchers recently discovered changes in newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients’ visual symptoms, which could open doors for new early detection methods. The study, published in Radiology, has made waves in the medical research world.
Lead researcher Dr. Alessandro Arrigo explained the connection between vision and Parkinson’s in a statement:
“Just as the eye is a window into the body, the visual system is a window into brain disorders. Although Parkinson’s disease is primarily considered a motor disorder, several studies have shown non-motor symptoms are common across all stages of the disease.”
According to Arrigo, a resident in ophthalmology at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele of Milan, the non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms are “often undiagnosed because patients are unaware of the link to the disease and, as a result, they may be under-treated.”
It is safe to say this novel research is helping to shed light on the connection!
The Importance of Recognizing Non-Motor Symptoms
Like constipation, visual symptoms can precede motor symptoms by years. In fact, Arrigo noted that some non-motor symptoms can appear over a decade before any of the more obvious, better-recognized aspects of Parkinson’s disease.
In the study, researchers performed examinations and MRIs on 20 newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients and a healthy control group. The patients had all been diagnosed four or less weeks prior to the testing. Using diffusion weighted imaging, the scientists examined white matter changes and voxel-based morphometry in the clinical trial volunteers’ brains. Their primary goal was investigating the gray and white matter changes of each brain.
In addition to this testing, the researchers gave the each participant an ophthalmologic examination.
“The study in depth of visual symptoms may provide sensitive markers of Parkinson’s disease. Visual processing metrics may prove helpful in differentiating Parkinsonism disorders, following disease progression, and monitoring patient response to drug treatment,” Arrigo said.
Arrigo and his team found that the Parkinson’s patients’ visual system brain structures had significant abnormalities. These included:
- a reduction of optic chiasm volume, or the region where the left and right optic nerves intersect
- a reduction of white matter concentration
- alterations of optic radiations
Though it has the potential to be a huge breakthrough, far more research is needed. Arrigo and the other researchers are currently planning subsequent studies to more thoroughly understand the specific changes and timing of degeneration along visual pathways.
Honors Bestowed on Doctoral Student
Arrigo and his team aren’t the only ones making waves in the world of Parkinson’s research. Recently a doctoral student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was presented a prestigious award for developing a test with the potential to make a world of difference for early Parkinson’s detection.
The student, Suaad Abd-Elhadi, received the Kaye Innovation Award for developing a way of detecting alpha-synuclein, a specific protein associated with Parkinson’s-affected tissues.
Abd-Elhadi came up with this novel diagnostic approach while working toward a PhD in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Hebrew University’s medical school. She worked under the supervision of Dr. Ronit Sharon.
Not only could this promising test help with early diagnosis, it also has potential to better track Parkinson’s progression and gauge how a given patient is responding to therapy, according to the announcement. The test will be further developed and commercialized by Yissum, Hebrew University’s technology transfer company.
Researchers across the globe, including the dedicated team at our state-of-the-art DeLand facility, are striving to make Parkinson’s disease an illness of the past. In the meanwhile, promising therapies and treatments (including kickboxing!) can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s patients’ symptoms.
If you’d like to be a part of this progress while taking a more active role in your health, you may want to consider participating in a clinical trial here at Avail. Volunteers receive all medical care free of charge, regardless of current insurance coverage. You also have the potential to access the most promising new treatments. If this interests you, or interests you on behalf of a loved one, check out our Parkinson’s disease clinical trial page or give us a call at (386) 785-2400. If you’re not quite sure whether you’d be interested, please also feel free to get in touch with any questions or concerns!