THURSDAY, June 12, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A simple and quick
MRI technique might aid in early detection of Parkinson's disease,
British researchers report.
The new MRI approach can detect with 85 percent accuracy people
who have early stage Parkinson's disease, according to findings
published online June 11 in the journal
That's important because the early symptoms of Parkinson's are
subtle, which makes an accurate early stage diagnosis very
difficult, the researchers said.
This new test, which focuses on scans of a part of the brain
known as the basal ganglia, could improve the lives of countless
patients with Parkinson's, said senior author Clare Mackay, a
senior research fellow with the Oxford Parkinson's Disease Center
at Oxford University.
"By the time symptoms of Parkinson's are obvious, a lot of damage has already taken place in the brain," Mackay said. "To reduce the impact of Parkinson's we need to find new ways to protect the brain before significant damage is done, so we must have good tools to identify people as early as possible in the course of the disease."
Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous
system that occurs when the body fails to produce enough of a brain
chemical called dopamine, according to the National Parkinson
Foundation. Early symptoms include trembling, stiffness and poor
coordination, but proceed to the point where patients may have
trouble walking, talking, chewing, swallowing or speaking.
Conventional MRI can't detect early signs of Parkinson's, so the
researchers turned to an MRI technique called resting-state
Patients are required to stay still in the scanner while doctors
examine the strength of the brain networks linked to the basal
ganglia, the deep brain region associated with Parkinson's
A different type of brain scan, PET, already has shown promise
as an early detection tool for Parkinson's, but the test is very
expensive and involves giving people a dose of radiation, Mackay
"MRI is relatively inexpensive and widely available," she said, adding that the test's lack of radiation allows for safer screening and repeat scanning.
The team developed the technique by comparing 19 people with
early stage Parkinson's disease while not on medication with 19
healthy people, matched for age and gender. The investigators found
that the Parkinson's patients had much lower connectivity in the
The researchers then applied their MRI test to a second group of
13 early stage Parkinson's patients, correctly identifying 11 out
of the 13 patients -- an accuracy score of 85 percent.
According to Mackay, "85 percent is promising, and we're working
on ways to improve this further."
The Oxford Parkinson's Disease Center treats more than 1,000
patients, which provides ample opportunity for researchers to
collect new scans, she said.
"We're also collecting scans from people who are at increased risk of Parkinson's, and will follow them up to find out whether our method could reliably predict who would develop the disease," Mackay noted.
That said, Mackay added that "brain scanning would never be used
to diagnose Parkinson's in isolation. It is likely that the best
sensitivity will come from combining brain scanning with other
The medical director of the National Parkinson Foundation, Dr.
Michael Okun, hailed the results of the new MRI test.
"It is very encouraging to see scientists attempting to validate simpler and more widely available techniques for detecting early Parkinson's disease," Okun said. "These sorts of approaches, if validated by larger better-powered studies, could be instrumental when applied to trials of potentially disease-modifying therapies."
For more about
Parkinson's disease, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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