Blood test may be 'crystal ball' for Parkinson's patients


LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Michael Weinman has been living with Parkinson's for 14 years. The degenerative disease has slowly robbed him of the ability to perform everyday tasks.

"I used to be able to run,[but] I can't run anymore," Weinman said. "I used to be able to carry my food to the table, I can't do that [anymore]."

However, he has kept a positive attitude through it all.

"I try to focus on what I can do," Weinman added.

"Definitely, he's a glass half-full," said his wife, Nessa.

While his disease has progressed slowly, Parkinson's patients don't know whether their disease will be mild or severe when they are diagnosed.

"Nobody who is a neurologist and sees patients can very well predict who will rapidly decline eventually need a wheelchair quite fast," explained Beate Ritz, MD, PhD, Chair, Dept. of Epidemiology Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, Fielding School of Public Health, UCLA.

Ritz and colleagues studied recently-diagnosed Parkinson's patients. They took blood samples and found those with higher levels of a metabolite called N8-acetyl spermidine, declined much faster than those with lower levels.

"We found that this one metabolite seemed to really distinguish these two groups from each other," explained Ritz.

Weinman and his wife hope research like this will help others. They also walk in the annual "Mike Hike", which has raised over $40,000 for Parkinson's.

"Hopefully in the future, they'll be able to treat it and recognize it sooner," Weinman said.

Doctors say the next step is to conduct a larger study on this metabolite as a predictor of faster progression.

Additional Information:

Parkinson's disease is a condition of the brain affecting approximately six million people.  It is most commonly characterized by slowness of movement, stiffness, shaking, and loss of balance.  Parkinson's often develops after the age of 50.  Although Parkinson's disease is one of the most common nervous system disorders for the elderly, it can affect young people too, usually because a form of the disease runs in their family.   Nerve cells use a brain chemical called dopamine to control muscles.  When the nerve cells in the brain that produce dopamine are destroyed as a result of Parkinson's, the nerve cells in that particular part of the brain will not properly send messages.  The result is the loss of muscle control.  The damage gets worse over time. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

TREATMENT:  A doctor may be able to diagnose the disease based on symptoms alone, but symptoms can be difficult to access in the elderly.  Unfortunately, there is no known cure only a treatment plan to control symptoms.  Medicines for Parkinson's are designed to control symptoms usually by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain.  Throughout the day the medications can wear off and symptoms can return.  Parkinson's requires the patient and doctor to work closely with each other to find the right treatment plan that works best.  Common medications are Levodopa (L-dopa), Pramipexole (Mirapex), Selegiline (Eldepryl, Deprenyl), Amantadine or anticholinergic medications to reduce early or mild tremors, or Entacapone to help control movement.  Other medications include:  Memantine for cognitive difficulties, Antidepressants, Gabapentin for pain, Fludrocortisone for autonomic dysfunction, and Armodafinil for sleep disorders. (Source: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health have identified a metabolite that seems to be a marker for a more severe form of the disease. After studying nearly 6,000 metabolites in the blood of people with Parkinson's, they found one, called N8-acetyl spermidine, was associated with a quicker worsening of Parkinson's symptoms. Patients were followed for 10 years, and those who had a more severe disease had higher levels of the metabolite. Researchers now have to find out if catching the disease early enough can help patients. (Source: Dr. Beate Ritz)