Could A New Skin Test Detect Parkinson's Disease Earlier?

Julia Little  |  November 6, 2015

When it comes to degenerative cognitive diseases, time is of the essence. Conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's become steadily worse over time, which is just one of the many reasons they can be so devastating. The earlier they are detected, the sooner treatment can begin.

Researchers from the University of San Luis Potosi, in Mexico, have been conducting preliminary research on a new skin test that has the potential to detect Parkinson's and Alzheimer's earlier than current methods. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are currently no tests specifically designed to detect and diagnose Parkinson's disease. Nowadays, doctors will instead use a variety of tests to rule out other conditions that might cause symptoms similar to those of Parkinson's. For example, a doctor might run blood tests or an MRI scan to check for other, detectable conditions. If those tests don't come up with anything, the next step may be to take a Parkinson's medication - if the person in question benefits from the medicine, a Parkinson's diagnosis is more likely. Having a test specifically for degenerative cognitive disorders is vital in the fight against these tricky disorders.

Parkinson's breathalyzer?
BBC reported that a major part of Parkinson's disease is the degeneration of nerves within the brain. Scientists from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology believe that the process could be detected with a breath test. The test is of interest to doctors around the world because it isn't as invasive or troublesome as a blood or imaging test. However, at this early stage it is still not capable of giving a definite diagnosis. That said, it could be a helpful addition to the lackluster set of tools currently available to medical professionals.

An analysis of current Parkinson's detection methods conducted by a researcher from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center found that, aside from the breath test, other scientists are experimenting with testing cerebral fluid, cranial ultrasounds and voice patterns. This last test is interesting, because it seeks to identify the early signs of speech impairment and word choice by cross-referencing a speech pattern dataset of Parkinson's disease patients with that of a control group, according to the scientists at Universiti Malaysia Perlis.

A new skin test
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that the researchers from Mexico believe that biomarkers found in skin tests could indicate the onset of Parkinson's disease. Currently, the researchers are looking for a protein called alpha-synuclein, which appears in high quantities in people with Parkinson's disease.

Dr. Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva, the chief researcher, said "...[T]he findings are exciting because we could potentially begin to use skin biopsies from living patients to study and learn more about these diseases."

The test is somewhat more involved than the breath test, but it is still far from invasive, as skin samples are generally small and painless.

For seniors and senior caregivers, new tests would mean more hope of catching degenerative diseases earlier. If any of the aforementioned tests proves useful, it could become part of the regular checkup procedure for aging adults. In the meantime, seniors should do their best to eat healthy, get regular exercise and engaging meaningful social and intellectual activities. For some ideas about how to stay active and social, check out these five great exercises for seniors.

More research is necessary before doctors will put their complete faith in these methods of early detection. Nevertheless, they do look promising. Because there are currently no real detection tests for Parkinson's, it is imperative that researchers continue to look for new methods and tools.

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