Researchers have shown it is possible to detect tell-tale signs of Parkinson's disease 20-30 years before symptoms of the debilitating neurodegenerative condition appear.
Their work opens the door to screening programs and preventive treatments long before irreversible damage is done.
Lead researcher Kevin Barnham from The Florey and Austin Health said Parkinson's disease is often thought of as an illness of old age, when in fact it starts in midlife and can go undetected for decades.
"Parkinson's disease is very hard to diagnose until symptoms are obvious, by which time up to 85 per cent of the brain's neurons that control motor co-ordination have been destroyed. At that point, many treatments are likely to be ineffective," Professor Barnham said.
"Our long-term goal is to find a way to detect the disease much earlier and treat people before the damage is done."
In a study published in Neurology, Professor Barnham and colleagues describe how a known biomarker called F-AV-133 can be used with positron emission tomography (PET) scans to diagnose Parkinson's disease and accurately track neurodegeneration.
In the Melbourne study, The Florey's Professor Chris Rowe and his team at Austin Health scanned 26 patients with Parkinson's disease, a control group of 12 people, and 11 people with rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder (RBD), which is a strong indicator of the disease.
Each person undertook two PET scans two years apart. Key findings include:
Further mathematical modelling calculated:
Professor Barnham said the findings open pathways to developing screening protocols for diagnosing and treating Parkinson's disease up to 10 years earlier than is now possible. It could also assist in identifying patients for clinical trials.
For more information about the disease, call (03) 8809-0400 or visit Fight Parkinson's
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