New research from an international consortium led by the Michael J Fox Foundation has highlighted a potential biological biomarker for Parkinson’s.

The accumulation and clustering of the protein called alpha-synuclein has long been considered an instrumental factor in the development and progression of Parkinson’s; genetic variations in the alpha-synuclein gene were the first identified genetic risk factor associated with Parkinson’s.

A recent study, using biological samples collected from 1123 individuals at 33 academic research institutes around the world, has reported exciting new findings that point towards a potential biological biomarker for Parkinson’s involving alpha-synuclein. By quantifying the clustering of this protein in samples of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) – the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord and the brain, researchers were able to determine individuals with idiopathic Parkinson’s (no known cause) and their symptom of loss of sense of smell, from unaffected ‘control’ individuals – with an accuracy of 98·6%.

This biomarker testing may also be able to identify people at risk of developing Parkinson’s. REM sleep behaviour disorder is a condition where people physically act out their dreams as they sleep, and this is considered to be a risk factor for developing Parkinson’s. The scientists applied their alpha-synuclein biomarker test to a cohort of people with REM sleep behaviour disorder and found the results to be accurate to 86%.

The findings of this study are very encouraging and may help to better select people for future clinical trials for Parkinson’s. The test is currently a binary yes or no outcome, and researchers are exploring if it can be adapted to provide measures of longer-term progression.

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