Finding the source of Parkinson’s disease has been a challenge for many researchers and this year we’ve gotten a lot closer to figuring it out. There are multiple ways that one can get the neurodegenerative disease with no one factor being the deciding one. This year alone researchers have found common enzymes in people suffering from Parkinson’s and are in the process of generating faster detection methods for people so treatment can start earlier. Just this week it was revealed that a widely used chemical called trichloroethylene (TCE) has a strong association with people who have Parkinson’s- so much so that it looks like exposure to the chemical can actually cause the disease.
The report, published today in JAMA Neurology, involved examining the medical records of tens of thousands of Marine Corps and Navy veterans who trained at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from 1975 to 1985. Those exposed there to water heavily contaminated with TCE had a 70% higher risk of developing Parkinson’s disease decades later compared with similar veterans who trained elsewhere. The Camp Lejeune contingent also had higher rates of symptoms such as erectile dysfunction and loss of smell that are early harbingers of Parkinson’s, which causes tremors; problems with moving, speaking, and balance; and in many cases dementia. Swallowing difficulties often lead to death from pneumonia.
What you do while dreaming might be a sign of things to come. This isn’t non-scientific phooey, rather this is real science that can help doctors and patients address neurological issues. There’s been an increase in scientists looking at what people do while dreaming to see if they have Parkinson’s or other neurological difficulties, and by examining dream behaviour it might be possible to provide an earlier diagnosis.
In recent years awareness of RBD and an understanding of how it relates to synucleinopathies have grown. Studying this link is giving researchers ideas for early intervention. These advances contribute to a growing appreciation of the so-called prodromal phase of Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative disorders—when preliminary signs appear, but a definitive diagnosis has not yet been made. Among the early clues for Parkinson’s, “RBD is special,” says Daniela Berg, a neurologist at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. “It’s the strongest clinical prodromal marker we have.”
Does damage to the brain stem also affect the content of dreams and the actions of dreamers? Sleep researcher Isabelle Arnulf, a professor of neurology at Sorbonne University in Paris, developed a keen interest in the dream-time behaviors of her Parkinson’s patients after noticing an unusual pattern: although these people struggled with movement while awake, their spouses often reported that they had no trouble moving while asleep. One particularly memorable patient, according to Arnulf, had been dreaming of crocodiles in the sleep lab when he lifted a heavy bedside table above his head and loudly shouted, “Crocodile! Crocodile!” to an empty room. When awake, he struggled to lift objects and to speak.
When Joy Milne‘s husband started to smell bad, she thought something was wrong. Her concern was met with a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, which is a neurological condition impacting hundreds of thousands around the world. The causes of Parkinson’s are still being investigated and diagnosing it is also a challenge; this is where Milne’s nose coms in. A team of researchers worked with Milne to develop a new at to test for Parkinson’s.
Now a team in the University of Manchester, working with Joy, has developed a simple skin-swab test which they claim is 95% accurate under laboratory conditions when it comes to telling whether people have Parkinson’s.
The researchers analysed sebum – the oily substance on skin – which was collected by using a cotton swab on patients’ backs, an area where it is less often washed away.
Using mass spectrometry, they compared 79 people with Parkinson’s with a healthy control group of 71 people.
The research found more than 4,000 unique compounds in the samples, of which 500 were different between people with Parkinson’s and the control group.
Researchers found a way to put a key chemical that helps Parkinson’s patients into tomatoes. The amino acid L-DOPA helps people process dopamine, which in turn, helps alleviate the troubles which Parkinson’s brings. Currently L-DOPA is delivered synthetically (through a pill) and this can cause severe side effects, whereas delivering it “naturally” in an organic vessel reduces the likelihood of side effects. Maybe this will lead to other pills being converted to delicious foods!
The scientists’researchfocused on turning tomatoes into a sort of factory to produceLevodopa(L-DOPA), a major Parkinson’s therapeutic. L-DOPA has been the gold standard drug for the management of PD symptomssince 1967, but it is typically obtained from synthetic sources. There are serious concerns about a shortage of the drug as incidences of PD rise. Turning tomato plants into factories to make this natural compound carries several benefits over synthetic versions or having L-DOPA synthesized naturally by other plants.
23andMe hopes to find a cure for Parkinson’s through data mining. Parkinson’s is a degenerative neurological disorder that affects millions of people, and a cure is hard to find. The company collects gene samples from people who want to know their genetic lineage, which it then stores and uses for research. Along with submitting their gene users answer questions that allow researches to look into things that were previously too expensive. To properly do the the research 23andMe teamed up with Genentech for the analysis of data.
Which is why Genentechâ€™s next step is to sequence the full genomes of 3,000 of 23andMeâ€™s Parkinsonâ€™s patients. These volunteers have answered questions about their family history, how quickly their disease is progressing, what treatments theyâ€™ve tried and how well theyâ€™ve worked. By drilling down into all 3 billion base pairs, the pharma firm hopes to get past the most common traits of Parkinsonâ€™sâ€”the ones that each exert a small effect to sum up to the heritability of the disease. Instead, theyâ€™re looking for those rare variants, which destroy more biological machinery than average, leaving a trail of rubble thatâ€™s easier to track.â€œ Theyâ€™re the extreme breaks in the system,â€ says Rob Graham, a senior scientist in Genentechâ€™s human genetics group, and coauthor on the Nature Genetics paper.