June 4, 2015

"Free Water" in the Brain: New, Non-Invasive Tool to Better Diagnose and Treat Parkinson's

Researchers at the University of Florida have identified a bio-marker – free water in the brain’s substantia nigra section – that could improve a doctor’s ability to diagnose and treat Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Details of the new study – published last month in the journal Brain – follow recent revelations that loss of smell and severe depression often herald the presence and development of the neurological disease.

How the Study Worked
The study involved 25 people with Parkinson’s and 19 people in a control group. Granted… not a large sample.

Using diffusion imaging – a type of MRI – the Florida team monitored the levels of “free water” in the substantia nigra regions of their subjects’ brains. This free water is fluid that is unconstrained by brain tissue, presumably a result of disease-related deterioration.

The substantia nigra is located mid-brain, and its neurons produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that enable coordination of movement.

(In addition, this brain region plays a key role in reward-seeking and addiction. Interestingly, we’ve already seen how certain PD medications complicate reward-seeking and addiction.)

Along with MRIs, the researchers administered the Montreal Cognitive Assessment to all subjects to track mental sharpness at the start of the study, and one year later.

What Researchers Learned
The Florida team reached several conclusions:
  • Free water in the substantia nigra is elevated in people with PD.
  • What’s more, those water levels increase as the disease progresses.
  • Free water levels could predict – yes, in advance – changes in bradykinesia  (slowness of movement common in PD) and cognitive status in people with PD. The more the water had accumulated, the greater the likelihood that future movement would be slowed and cognition affected.

These findings seem to demonstrate that free water measurement could provide a potential non-invasive Parkinson’s progression marker.

David Vaillancourt, Ph.D. and one of the study’s authors, suggested that this new disease progression marker could inform treatment decisions and help to identify new therapies:
The Parkinson’s drugs available today help reduce symptoms. They don’t slow the progression of the disease, which is the major unmet medical need. We’ve provided a tool to test promising new therapies that could address progression.

Earlier Diagnoses, Improved Clinical Trials
Vaillancourt made another observation: Doctors typically diagnose PD by evaluating patients’ symptoms and their response to medication. Now, this new, simple “free water” measurement could help diagnosticians distinguish Parkinson’s from other disorders. That ability – to accurate diagnose Parkinson’s earlier -- could also lead to better clinical trials.

Tuesday's post included this comment from PD expert Murat Emre: “We have entered a new phase in Parkinson’s disease research: its molecular pathology is being disentangled…. We are looking forward to exciting times, which we hope to come sooner rather than later.”


1 comment:

Angelica Elizarraras said...

Thanks so much for sharing all your experiencies and researchs about PD, my dad hAs it and unfortunately he is in a really deep depression that I can't get him to do something else but to watch tv all day. Anyways I keep reading your handy posts hoping that someday He wiill share your same point of view . P.s. At least I think I am conveoncing him on writing on his own blog as you are. Thanks againg, keep going and blessings.