Press Release

22 Jan 2013

Van Andel Institute study could lead to blood test for Parkinson’s disease

Researchers identify plasma-based biomarkers that may one day be used to diagnose Parkinson’s disease

Grand Rapids, Mich. (Jan. 22, 2013) – Van Andel Institute researchers have identified plasma-based molecular biomarkers that may one day lead to a blood test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. In the early stages of the disease, its most obvious symptoms generally, though not always, include tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement and difficulty with gait.

Current Parkinson’s disease diagnosis is based primarily on subjective physical examinations related to patient motor function. Molecular biomarkers that are objective and quantifiable would be highly useful as clinical tools to detect PD prior to the development of the disease’s motor symptoms.

“A diagnostic test to determine the status of a patient’s disease onset would provide crucial data for more timely, efficient, and successful therapeutic interventions,” said Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D, Director of Van Andel Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science. “There is an urgent need to develop objective, measureable biomarkers to improve PD diagnostics and help define its subtypes, and Dr. Khoo’s interesting study is an important step in that direction.”

According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, as many as one million Americans live with Parkinson’s disease, with approximately 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. An estimated seven to 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease.

The proof-of-concept study, published in December in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, aimed to identify, develop, and validate plasma-based circulating microRNA (miRNAs) as biomarkers for PD.

Although clinical diagnostic tests based on biochemical analysis of biofluids from PD patients have yet to be established, biofluids such as blood plasma and serum could provide an ideal resource for development of such biomarkers, since the miRNAs detected in various cells and tissues can also be found in them.

“The ideal biomarker should be minimally-invasive, cost efficient, quantifiable, reproducible, specific, and sensitive,” said Van Andel Institute Research Scientist Sok Kean Khoo, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “The miRNAs identified in the study fit all of the criteria of high-quality biomarkers.”

“Patients have been hoping for an accurate test to confirm the clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease,” said Leslie A. Neuman, M.D., a Neurologist at Saint Mary’s Health Care and collaborator on the study.  “A sensitive and reliable biomarker would be invaluable to the diagnostic process, especially as we get into the areas of disease modification and neuroprotection.”

“This project required the collaborative effort of both scientists and clinicians to make it a success,” Khoo added.  “I’d like to thank The Michael J. Fox Foundation for partially funding this project and the Grand Rapids, Michigan and Ume˚a, Sweden communities for participating in this important study.”

The study was carried out in partnership with researchers from the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Center at University of Chicago; The Neuroscience Program of Saint Mary’s Health Care; the Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Neuroscience, Ume˚a University, Sweden; and the School of Medicine, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Research was supported by Van Andel Institute, Van Andel Institute’s Purple Community: 100% Hope, the Swedish Medical Research Council, the Erling-Persson Family Foundation, the Swedish Parkinson Foundation, the Swedish Parkinson’s Disease Association, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research Rapid Response Innovation Award. Special thanks also to Parkinson’s patient Steve Majerle for his support of the project.

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About Van Andel Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent research and educational organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., dedicated to preserving, enhancing and expanding the frontiers of medical science, and to achieving excellence in education by probing fundamental issues of education and the learning process. Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) is dedicated to strengthening science education and preparing and motivating individuals to pursue science or science-related professions. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), the research arm of VAI, is dedicated to probing the genetic, cellular and molecular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and working to translate those findings into effective therapies. This is accomplished through the work of over 200 researchers and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe.