Our scientific research on misfolded Synuclein has advanced Parkinson’s diagnosis, giving birth to a new test for doctors to diagnose Parkinson’s disease early. How early? Decades before the body shows any movement disorders. Early diagnosis of Parkinson’s gives you a better quality of life and allows your doctor to formulate treatment options to delay or even stop the progress. Great news, right? This article shows the major discoveries and implications of our research studies on the detection of alpha-synuclein (aSyn), a biomarker known to cause Parkinson’s Disease (PD), including a recently published paper in Nature (February 2020).
As the developer of Protein Misfolding Cyclic Amplification (PMCA) technology and on behalf of the team at UTHealth, I’d like to thank The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) and the National Institute on Aging for jointly funding this research.
We’ve discovered some major applications from our research studies to advance the early diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
I’ll examine Parkinson’s Disease’s major areas, the problems with detecting Parkinson’s currently, and the solutions (and hope!) our research brings to early testing of Parkinson’s Disease. This breakthrough in early detection may ultimately lead us to find a cure to stop Parkinson’s. Let’s dive in.
What’s Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic, long-term, and progressive brain disorder representing the most common neurodegenerative illness after Alzheimer’s Disease. Read more here: Parkinson’s disease Wiki.
Parkinson’s Disease causes a person to lose control over some bodily functions. Usually, Parkinson’s affects older people, but it also happens at any age. Early signs of Parkinson’s include the following:
- Tremors of the hands,
- Slow movements,
- Muscle stiffness,
- Impaired posture,
- Trouble sleeping,
- Depression or mood changes
- Loss of smell, balance, voluntary movements, and speech changes.
Here is a good resource to learn more about Parkinson’s, such as what to expect and other early signs or symptoms of Parkinson’s WebMD Parkinson’s Slideshow
How Parkinson’s Disease Affects People?
About 1 million people in the U.S. and 10 million worldwide are affected by Parkinson’s Disease. Each year, about 60,000 people in the U.S. learn they have Parkinson’s.
Both females and males get Parkinson’s Disease; however, it’s 1.5 times more common in men.
It is also more common in older folks, although 4% of the cases happen in people under age 50.
Causes Of Parkinson’s
According to the American Parkinson Disease Association, there may be more than one cause. However, there is evidence for the role of genetics, environmental factors, or a combination of both.
On the cellular level, Parkinson’s is brought on by the death of nerve cells in the substantia nigra, a brain region that controls movements.
This cell death appears to be caused by the progressive accumulation of protein aggregates in the brain. These aggregates are composed of the protein alpha-synuclein, which becomes misfolded and acquire the ability to spread the damage from cell-to-cell similarly to a prion. The larger aggregates of synuclein observed under the microscope in Parkinson’s patients are called Lewy Bodies.
These aggregates form in the patient’s brain for years, if not decades, before any clinical symptoms appear. Slowly but persistently, these abnormal/misfolded proteins spread in the brain, undetected by conventional testing methods, then ultimately destroying the brain.
The Lack Of Treatments For Parkinson’s Disease
Currently, there is no treatment to stop the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. Many drugs aimed to stop brain diseases have failed in clinical studies, primarily because it is challenging to cure the brain after it is severely damaged.
One of the main challenges in developing successful treatments for Parkinson’s Disease is the lack of a biochemical test before a person’s brain suffers substantial, irreversible damage. One can say the lack of an accurate early diagnosis of Parkinson’s is a major obstacle in developing successful treatments. This begs our next question.
How Is Parkinson’s Diagnosed Currently?
At the moment, patients can be diagnosed with Parkinson’s only after they show clear symptoms of the disease. But what happens to the brain at the point of diagnosis?
Well, it turns out more than 50% of the patient’s nerve cells in the substantia nigra have already died by then. The brain is not able to regenerate.
These brain cells, once they are dead, they are dead forever. Therefore, the brain’s destruction leads to major and incurable consequences, such as the case in Parkinson’s.
Solutions For Early Testing Of Parkinson’s Disease
As the chief scientific officer at Amprion, we apply the PMCA (also known as RT-QuIC) technology on a commercial scale for accurate, early testing for Parkinson’s and various brain diseases.
Our goal is to offer people molecular-based early diagnosis for Parkinson’s, way before any clinical symptoms appear, and minimal damage to the brain.
How Does PMCA Work?
The PMCA technology mimics and measures the abnormal process of protein misfolding and aggregation in the brain at an accelerated speed through an amplification process in the laboratory.
This amplification technology makes the disease biomarkers easily detectable. They are normally invisible because of the minuscule quantities present in biological fluids, such as blood, urine, or cerebrospinal fluid.
Why Do People Test For Parkinson’s When There’s No Cure Yet?
To treat the disease, we have to know the disease exists first.
Without an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease at the early stages, science and medicine have been working blind for more than 100 years to develop treatments.
Successful implementation of early testing for Parkinson’s Disease will bring significant changes, from accelerating drug developments in finding a cure to benefiting people in proactively managing their life journey in delaying or preventing the onset of symptoms through lifestyle changes, healthier diets, and exercise programs, etc.
Early diagnosis of Parkinson’s also allows your doctors to steer you on the right course of suitable treatment options early when the brain is healthier and more likely to respond to intervention.
At Amprion, we want to empower people with preventive brain care.
As early testing for Parkinson’s is widely adopted, we also empower scientists with critical data to advance research, such as analyzing how Parkinson’s Disease progresses in the brain and developing effective treatment pathways to slow or even prevent the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms.
This, in turn, enables us to work with pharmaceutical companies to target recruit the right patients for the right drugs and the right clinical trial, monitor the efficacy of the treatments, and develop personalized medicine. Ultimately, together we will find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.
Below are brain images that compare the brain’s conditions affected by Parkinson’s, starting from healthy to before symptoms then after symptoms. The key to treating any disease is to know it’s there and as early as possible so that we start preventive care to delay or stop the progression of damage.
Applications For Early Testing Beyond Parkinson’s, Including Alzheimer’s Disease
The accumulation of protein aggregates is not unique to Parkinson’s Disease. It is also the
cause of other currently incurable illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, dementia with Lewy bodies, Huntington’s disease, and other common and highly prevalent illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer.
These diseases are associated with accumulating a different protein in distinct organs, but the process is very similar.
Amprion is extending the PMCA technology for early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, offering testing for Alzheimer’s at early stages. Through early diagnosis, we enable therapeutic intervention to delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.
We focus on bringing the best possible quality of life to people at risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Diseases. The only way to achieve this goal is through early testing of these neurodegenerative diseases.
Our group of scientists is working towards a singular vision: A world without Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or cancer.
The key is detecting these deadly diseases at the earliest stages and applying the proper treatments before they destroy our lives. Early testing is the key to finding a cure for incurable diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
When Will The Tests Be Ready For Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s?
The FDA awarded Amprion Breakthrough Device Designation for the detection of synuclein in May 2019. And we’ve been working hard to scale up our assay for commercial use to meet CLIA and FDA approvals.
Amprion anticipates rolling out specific biomarker-based testing using cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) and/or blood within the next 12 months.
The first test out of the gate is the Synuclein Test, which is the most accurate, early-stage testing for Parkinson’s and 40% of Alzheimer’s patients.
How Early Is Early Testing?
Using our biomarker-testing, we’re talking about giving people the ability to find out, with certainty, whether they have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s decades before they show any clinical symptoms. This is what we believe in—Early.
Early means developmental stages. Early leads to prevention and eventually finding the cure for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and all other incurable diseases.
Other Implications: Detecting Multiple System Atrophy (MSA).
In our latest study recently published in Nature, we showed that PMCA technology could identify Parkinson’s patients. It also allows us to distinguish Parkinson’s from a clinically similar disease, known as multiple system atrophy (MSA).
The accumulation of alpha-synuclein aggregates causes both PD and MSA, but each of these diseases affect different nerve cells.
Even though both diseases may initially show similar clinical symptoms, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose accurately, these diseases progress very differently, requiring distinct treatments. Thus, it is critical to establish an early testing procedure to identify which disease affects the patient effectively.
Our study demonstrated that even though these aggregates’ protein component is the same in both diseases, the aggregates’ shape is clearly different.
The PMCA assay detects the specific shape of these proteins in each disease, enabling us to diagnose the appropriate disease patients accurately. The research findings have many implications for understanding Parkinson’s disease and how to diagnose the disease to form treatment options accurately.
I hope this article helps you better understand our research and how our work brings hope in early testing for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, MSA, as well as other prion-related diseases.
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