Researchers at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have identified a group of five genes in the blood that can predict whether an individual will in future develop the severe and ultimately fatal neurological condition Parkinson’s disease.

The scientists, headed by Dr. Silvia Mandel from the Rappaport Medical Faculty, published their findings in the journal Molecular Neurodegeneration and included colleagues in Israel, Germany and Italy.

At present, there isn’t a single blood test to screen for or diagnose Parkinson’s. This makes it difficult to identify people at risk for or at an early stage of the disease.

“Finding biological signs – or biomarkers – for Parkinson’s can help diagnose it in the early stages, even before symptoms appear and monitor the effects of treatments that protect the brain,” said Mandel, who works at the Technion’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease. “The initial aim was to determine whether among patients in the early stage a biological signature can be found to support its diagnosis.”

They used blood samples from 62 patients at the beginning of their disease and a control group of 64 healthy people. Choice of the genes was based on previous research by Mandel and Technion Prof. Moussa Youdim.

Genetic data from 30 patients in advanced stages of the disease were used to confirm the five genes as being predictive at 100 percent accuracy.

The model also fully differentiated between Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease victims.

The biomarker will help diagnose individuals in the pre-symptom stage of the disease who suffer from depression, sleep disorders, hyposmia – the reduced ability to smell and to detect odors – or people who carry genetic risk factors. These are good candidates for prospective treatment neurological treatment, they said.

The biomarker would be valuable in clinical studies for identifying the sub-population of Parkinson’s patients who would react positively to treatments aimed at molecular mechanisms to which the gene group belongs.

All five genes are part of the ubiquitin-proteasome system whose involvement in the pathology of Parkinson’s disease has already been demonstrated.

The Haifa researchers believe that in the future it will be possible to integrate a blood test with brain scanning and/or biomarkers in the spinal fluid or other tissues as the gold standard not only for early diagnosis but also for differentiation between Parkinson’s and other similar motor disorders.

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