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Big News – Parkinson’s Disease Can Now Be Detected Through the Skin

April, the birth month of James Parkinson, is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s is a degenerative syndrome that results in the gradual loss of brain circuitry involved in movement, thinking and behavior. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the first clear medical description of Parkinson’s Disease as a neurological condition was written in 1817 by James Parkinson.

Over two centuries have passed since then, and the quest for a cure continues. Parkinson’s predominantly affects people over the age of 60. In the United States, about half a million people have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, yet countless others go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Some experts estimate that as many as 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s.

The Challenge of Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease

Because there is no one specific lab or imaging test that can diagnose Parkinson’s Disease, doing so typically involves a series of tests including a brain MRI, a dopamine transporter scan (DaT scan) and blood work to support a diagnosis or to rule out other medical conditions that are similar to Parkinson’s.

A movement disorder specialist, a neurologist with experience and specific training in the assessment and treatment of Parkinson’s and related disorders, will also be consulted. In addition to slowness of movement, the neurologist will examine shaking or tremor in a limb that occurs while it is at rest, stiffness or rigidity of the arms, legs, or trunk and balance issues – all indicators of the disease.

The latest diagnostic tools

About this time last year, we were talking about a big breakthrough of a spinal fluid test that can detect Parkinson’s in people who have not yet been diagnosed or exhibited clinical symptoms of the disease but are at a high risk of developing it. And this year’s news is another promising step forward.

Researchers recently shared results of a test that can, “with high accuracy,” identify the alpha-synuclein protein that is the hallmark of Parkinson’s and related disorders. The skin test is commercially available and can be ordered by your neurologist.

Now, this test alone does not provide a diagnosis. That must still be made by a doctor interpreting the test results in context of your symptoms. But according to Rachel Dolhun, MD, senior vice president of medical affairs at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, “The skin test, like α-syn SAA in CSF and others in the pipeline, will, hopefully, transform how and when doctors can diagnose and care for disease.”

The Importance of Early Detection and Intervention

This skin test is important for other reasons. Beyond aiding in the early detection of Parkinson’s, biomarkers like those found with the test provide researchers the ability to conduct highly targeted clinical trials for new treatments.

Early intervention can help to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. Treatments are available to manage Parkinson’s symptoms. Medications such as Levodopa and dopamine agonists can help to alleviate symptoms, while physical therapy and exercise can improve mobility and balance. In some cases, deep brain stimulation surgery may be recommended to help control symptoms.

It is clear that each advancement brings us closer to a world where Parkinson’s no longer casts a shadow over the lives of millions. With each new test, each discovery, we better understand this complex disease, and are better able to improve care and treatment.

Helpful Resources

  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation has developed resources to help individuals and families move through the earliest days with Parkinson’s disease (PD) and beyond.
  • The American Parkinson Disease Association’s nationwide network provides information and referral, education and support programs, health and wellness activities, and other events to facilitate a better quality of life, while also funding vital research.

About the Author

Bret Kueber, M.D.

Assistant Medical Director
Bret Kueber, M.D.

Dr. Kueber (pronounced KEE-brr) joined the Clinic full time in March 2022. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, he completed his residency in Family Practice at the Cleveland Clinic. He is board certified in Family Medicine. As an avid sportsman, he has a special interest in sports medicine and is a […]

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