Skin cells may hold the key to early Parkinson’s disease detection

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A groundbreaking study, led by researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, has developed an innovative method for studying Parkinson’s disease in the laboratory.

In the process, scientists have unveiled important clues that could pave the way for earlier Parkinson’s detection and more effective treatments.

Parkinson’s Disease: A Growing Challenge

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder affecting approximately one million Americans. It manifests as difficulties in movement, balance, and cognition, gradually worsening until everyday tasks like walking, talking, and swallowing become daunting.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, existing treatments help manage symptoms, yet their effectiveness diminishes over time and often entails unwanted side effects.

Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease: A Late-Stage Challenge

Dr. Lalitha Madhavan, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine—Tucson, underscores the issue of late-stage Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.

Typically, Parkinson’s is identified when 60-70% of dopamine neurons in the brain have already deteriorated or died off.

Although treatments are available, diagnosing the condition at this advanced stage is akin to attempting to extinguish a roaring fire with a small glass of water. The need to diagnose Parkinson’s at its earliest stages is critical.

Creating a Human-Derived Laboratory Model

To address this challenge, Dr. Madhavan’s team developed a human-derived laboratory model for studying Parkinson’s disease.

They used cells obtained from Parkinson’s patients, employing induced pluripotent stem cell technology to transform adult skin cells, known as fibroblasts, into brain cells.

This innovative approach enabled researchers to study Parkinson’s disease at the cellular level, potentially leading to improved diagnostics and treatments.

Skin Cells as a Window into the Brain

Interestingly, the experiments yielded another valuable insight: skin cells may serve as a window into the brain. While skin cells themselves do not exhibit neurological symptoms, they share certain molecular “signatures” with brain cells.

These shared changes suggest that skin cells could potentially be used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease at an early stage.

Early Detection and Precision Medicine

The team envisions a future in which doctors can detect Parkinson’s disease at its inception by examining skin cells for specific molecular markers associated with the disease.

This innovative approach could revolutionize early diagnosis and pave the way for tailored treatments based on individual patients’ genetic profiles.

A Patented Method for Early Diagnosis

Dr. Madhavan’s team has patented a method for analyzing skin cells to identify molecular signs linked to Parkinson’s disease. Their ongoing research aims to better understand how skin cells change over time, shedding light on the disease’s progression and facilitating early detection.

Potential for Precision Medicine

By harnessing the ease of access to a patient’s skin cells, this approach could usher in a new era of precision medicine. Physicians may be able to prescribe existing treatments to slow disease progression based on early diagnosis.

Simultaneously, scientists can develop next-generation Parkinson’s drugs targeting the disease in its nascent stages.

Dr. Madhavan envisions a more refined approach to Parkinson’s disease, where different patients receive personalized treatments based on their unique classification within the Parkinson’s spectrum.

This innovative system could enhance treatment effectiveness and ultimately improve the lives of patients and their healthcare providers.

If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies that Vitamin B may slow down cognitive decline, and Mediterranean diet could help lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline, and results showing Plant-based diets could protect cognitive health from air pollution.

The research findings can be found in Progress in Neurobiology.

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