Researchers have made a significant breakthrough in understanding Parkinson’s disease (PD), as reported in a scientific article published in The Lancet Neurology. The new tool called the α-synuclein seeding amplification assay (αSyn-SAA) can detect abnormal alpha-synuclein, also known as the “Parkinson’s protein,” in brain and body cells. This discovery opens up new opportunities for research and development, and it promises to improve care and treatments for those living with Parkinson’s.
The αSyn-SAA can confirm the presence of abnormal alpha-synuclein with exceptional accuracy, detecting pathology in spinal fluid samples, not only in those already diagnosed with Parkinson’s but also in those who have not yet been diagnosed or shown clinical symptoms but are at high risk of developing the disease. 93% of participants with Parkinson’s in the assay had an abnormal test, and less than 5% of those without Parkinson’s had an abnormal test.
Alpha-synuclein, a protein normally found in the nervous system, can begin to misfold and clump, causing damage to neurons and resulting in Parkinson’s disease. Postmortem analysis has been the only way to confirm the presence of these clumps until now. The αSyn-SAA test utilizes a unique pathological characteristic of alpha-synuclein, which leads to the misfolding and clumping of normal alpha-synuclein in its vicinity.
To perform the test, spinal fluid samples are treated with a fluorescent agent that illuminates in the presence of alpha-synuclein clumps. Normal alpha-synuclein is introduced into the spinal fluid sample, and if there is an abnormal alpha-synuclein presence, clumps will form, and the dye will light up. Conversely, if no abnormal alpha-synuclein is present, the fluorescent dye remains dormant.
PPMI, the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, led an international team of scientists to achieve this biomarker breakthrough. The study validated the assay in 1,123 samples of spinal fluid contributed by PPMI participants with a high level of accuracy. PPMI was built for the purpose of identifying reliable and accurate biomarker tests for Parkinson’s disease, and this latest finding is the most significant to date.
The discovery of an early marker for Parkinson’s disease is changing the way the disease is understood, diagnosed, and treated. Parkinson’s is no longer solely based on subjective clinical assessments but is now objectively defined through biological markers. This breakthrough allows for earlier diagnosis, targeted treatments, and more efficient drug development.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is driving the next stages of development of the αSyn-SAA toward widespread and standard use. The current tool that can detect the presence of abnormal synuclein offers great promise, but optimization is needed to measure the amount of alpha-synuclein present. Once optimized, the assays could detect abnormal synuclein through a simple blood draw or nasal swab, which could be performed in any doctor’s office, allowing for an earlier and easier diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
The discovery of the α-synuclein seeding amplification assay marks a significant milestone in Parkinson’s disease research. It offers the potential for earlier detection, targeted treatments, and faster drug development, bringing us closer to eradicating Parkinson’s once and for all.