Early Diagnosis of PARKINSON’S DISEASE by a New MRI Process
Early detection of PARKINSON’S DISEASE, before the symptoms become obvious, will lead to early interventions to slow the disease process and improve the lives of people at risk for this disease. While there still is no cure for this disease, it has not been possible to even make a positive diagnosis until after symptoms have already appeared. By then, some estimates indicate that over 75% of the dopamine producing neurons in the patients’ brains have been destroyed. Medications do offer symptomatic relief of some of the symptoms, but early treatment could limit the damage to dopamine producing neurons and dramatically improve the quality of life for people with PARKINSON’S DISEASE.
A research team at Oxford University in the United Kingdom has used a new simple MRI scanning technique that has predicted PARKINSON’S DISEASE with very high accuracy. Standard MRI techniques are not sufficient to detect early changes in the brain that would signal development of the disease. Dr. Clare Mackay found an approach that allowed the team to study the connectivity strength of brain networks in the basal ganglia. Using his technique for resting state functional MRI (fMRI) the researchers compared the connectivity levels of 19 subjects with early stage PARKINSON’S DISEASE and 19 healthy control subjects. With 100% accuracy, they found a much lower level of connectivity in the brains of the subjects with PARKINSON’S DISEASE; it also picked up a small percentage of healthy people. So they repeated the study on a second group of subjects and the results were almost the same, sufficient to validate the results of the first study.
The technique is non-invasive; subjects are simply required to lie still in the scanner. Researchers hope that this new technique will become part of clinical practice and have the ability to allow physicians to predict which of their patients is at risk of developing PARKINSON’S DISEASE before any symptoms arise. The study was done with subjects known to be in the early stages, so more research will be done to refine the technique to be sensitive enough to predict risk for non-symptomatic subjects. Early detection combined with other new research discoveries may hold the key to better and earlier treatment, making life with PARKINSON’S DISEASE much easier.
Clare Mackay et al. Functional connectivity in the basal ganglia network differentiates PD patients from controls. Neurology, June 2014 DOI:10.1212/WNL.0000000000000592
Review by Marcia McCall