March 14, 2008 -- A "metabolomic" profile of 1,860 molecules in the blood identifies people with Parkinson's disease.
With further refinement and validation, the technique could become the first test for Parkinson's disease. That would be a big boost for doctors, who need a test to diagnose and track the progression of this neurodegenerative disease.
A definitive test would also help researchers looking for Parkinson's treatments. Currently, clinical trials of promising treatments are confounded by uncertainty as to whether all the patients actually have Parkinson's.
"Metabolomics" is the study of molecules thrown off by the body's many metabolic processes. The idea is that specific diseases cause typical changes in the body -- and have a unique metabolomic profile, suggests study researcher M. Flint Beal, MD, chairman and professor of neurology at Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Using state-of-the-art screening, Beal and colleagues first compared unmedicated Parkinson's patients to control patients. Then they used the resulting profile to test 66 Parkinson's patients and 25 control patients.
"We discovered a clear differentiation between the metabolomic profiles of Parkinson's disease patients versus those of the controls," Beal says in a news release. "No one molecule was definitive, but a pattern of compounds emerged that was highly specific to Parkinson's patients."
Beal and colleagues are currently testing patients at different states of Parkinson's disease to see whether they can discover profiles that would predict disease worsening. They are also looking at people who carry a gene that increases a person's risk of Parkinson's disease to see whether, over time, their metabolomic profile predicts disease onset.
The test isn't yet ready for doctors' offices. It will need to be tested and validated in a large number of patients.
Beal and colleagues report the findings in the February issue of the journal Brain.