Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease can be difficult, as it can only be done after motor symptoms appear. In an effort to create a better diagnostic method that can catch the disease earlier on in its progression, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded the University of Buffalo $2.2 million. They will look into the dopamine producing neurons in order to create a better diagnostic process.
About Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder that affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is characterized by its effect on movement through five different stages. As the disease progresses, severity increases.
- Stage one is characterized by subtle tremors on one side of the body.
- In stage two, symptoms are more noticeable, with tremors and rigidity on both sides of the body.
- Stage three brings loss of balance and slow movement.
- Stage four makes it impossible for one to live independently.
- Stage five is the most severe, as patients cannot stand or walk. Hallucinations and delusions are common symptoms of this stage.
Parkinson’s disease occurs due to the death of motor neurons, some of which produce dopamine. Dopamine is important in the transmittance of messages to the muscles from the brain, so the loss of dopamine results in the loss of motor functions. Abnormal brain activity occurs when these neurons are lost. Doctors do not know why these motor neurons die, but they do suspect a few factors that play a role, such as genetics, environmental factors like toxins, and Lewy bodies. There are no FDA approved therapies for Parkinson’s, and treatment is symptomatic. Treatment options include dopamine substitutes, carbidopa-levodopa, MAO-B inhibitors, catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors, anticholinergics, and amantadine.
About the New Diagnostic Technique
The University of Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will be curating the new diagnostic method. They already know that changes in the brain appear many years before motor symptoms develop, so their goal is to find a way to detect these changes. If successful, treatment will be administered much earlier.
Researchers at UB have also used a specific type of stem cell called induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), which are able to produce nearly any type of cell. They can even generate the dopamine producing neurons that are needed in the brains of Parkinson’s patients. The plan is to use these stem cells and their prior knowledge to diagnose this disease before motor symptoms appear.
Hopefully the University of Buffalo will be successful in its efforts, as a better diagnostic method would greatly improve patient outcomes.
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