My diagnosis with Parkinson's Disease in September 2009 at age 80 gave my life a new focus and challenge. Finding ways to meet this challenge helped make 2010 the best year of my life. I hope this blog will be a place where I can connect with others who also are dealing with aging and its afflictions and attractions so that we can share our "experience, strength and hope."
February 12, 2015
Diagnosing Parkinson's from a Simple Puff of Breath?
What if doctors could detect and diagnose a patient’s Parkinson’s
disease – early on – with just a simple breath test?
It may sound a bit like science fiction, but the technology has shown
promise, and more testing is underway.
In 2015, there is no useful diagnostic tool for PD. Doctors might
detect the disease based on their patients’ symptoms -- like tremor, stiffness
and difficulty with movements and speech. Test results might lead to diagnoses.
But these techniques often don’t’ ID the disease early enough, and they aren’t
foolproof. In fact, studies have shown that up to 20% of people diagnosed with
Parkinson's show no evidence of the disease in post-mortem examinations.
The Curse of Late PD Diagnoses
Millions of others – like me – don’t get a proper, formal PD
diagnosis until long after the disease has begun to do its destructive work on
the brain’s dopamine-producing neurons.
In my own case, one arm wasn’t swinging normally – evidence that some
Parkinson’s-related stiffness was already setting in. I also lost my sense of smell
– a common early-warning sign -- long before any of my doctors spoke the word
“Parkinson’s” to me.
There’s no question: the current absence of a reliable, useful PD
diagnostic tool puts people with Parkinson’s (PWPs) at a real disadvantage. Some
estimates suggest that up to 80% of PWP’s dopamine levels have been lost before
diagnosis. In those advanced cases, therapy becomes mostly a matter of damage
Take a Deep Breath
Scientists believe that the degradation of nerve cells in the brains of
PWPs leaves a kind of chemical footprint in the body… a biomarker which an
appropriate test might be able to indentify. Find that biomarker early enough,
and useful, symptom-thwarting treatment could begin right away.
Researchers have been searching for PD biomarkers for a long
time – in blood, brainscans, and spinal fluid.
And now, they’re looking at exhaled breath for traces of certain volatile
organic compounds (VOCs).
This search for a Parkinson’s-breath connection isn’t brand new, but an article posted on February 10 to the BBC’s website alerted me that new
developments were underway.
A small Israeli study examined the breath of 57 people – some of whom had
PD. Study leaders concluded they could:
ID the PWPs through distinctive patterns of VOCs, and
Even distinguish between different sub-types of the disease based on
the presence and quantity of different VOCs.
Now, a Larger
The Israeli study got the attention of the British
charity Parkinson’s UK and researchers at the University of Cambridge.
Together, they plan to conduct a larger study, hoping to replicate the Israeli results
with 200 volunteers in England.
Dr Simon Stott – a member of the British team that
will collaborate with scientists from the Israel Institute of Technology, in
Haifa – said: "A breath test would be really appealing because it's
non-invasive, non-painful and can be done in seconds.”
In addition to enabling earlier diagnoses for PWPs –
in itself a potential game-changer in the treatment of the disease – there’s
the hope that these volatile organic compounds in the breath of PWPs will
create new targets for drug development.
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Next week, we’ll consider another potential PD
diagnostic tool in the works – an amazing smartphone app.