A New Tool to Diagnose Parkinson’s Disease


Key Points

  • A recent international study found that physicians can diagnose Parkinson’s disease (PD) by testing a patient’s spinal fluid.
  • PD is currently diagnosed through neurological tests and by ruling out other conditions.
  • If this diagnostic method is widely adopted, physicians may be able to diagnose PD earlier and better monitor disease progression.
Test tube pipette

Last month, results from a groundbreaking clinical trial published in The Lancet Neurology confirmed that physicians can diagnose Parkinson’s disease (PD) with a high rate of accuracy using a novel amplification tool that identifies abnormal alpha-synuclein in brain and body cells in the cerebrospinal fluid.

Alpha-synuclein is a protein normally found in the nervous system that can start to misfold and clump, in patients with PD.

The study was conducted at 33 sites around the world and included testing the spinal fluid of 1,123 participants. Results showed that the tool – called the alpha-synuclein seeding amplification assay (αSyn-SAA) – can confirm the presence of abnormal alpha-synuclein with astonishing accuracy. Ninety-three percent of people with Parkinson’s who participated in the assay were proven to have abnormal alpha-synuclein. The study was led by The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).

“We’ve never previously been able to see in a living person whether they have this alpha-synuclein biological change happening in their body,” says Todd Sherer, PhD, chief mission officer of MJFF.

To date, the only way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease has been through a series of neurological tests and by ruling out other conditions. It has previously only been possible to confirm the presence of the alpha-synuclein clumps through postmortem analysis. 

“This is a major step forward for the diagnosis of PD and moves toward the change from the diagnosis being made clinically to one that is made with a diagnostic test,” said Tim Meakem, MD, the Foundation’s chief medical officer. “The Foundation and MJFF are funding a study that is working in a parallel path, trying to identify a PD biomarker with blood-brain barrier opening. The results of both of these efforts may enable improved testing for therapeutic agents.”

“It is important to stress that the αSyn-SAA is strictly to better diagnose Parkinson’s disease,” adds Dr. Meakem. “There is no therapeutic benefit associated with these data. However, if this αSyn-SAA is widely used in clinical settings, the hope is that physicians can detect and treat PD sooner and also monitor disease progression.”

Learn more about this breakthrough. MJFF hosted a webinar to discuss the implications of the findings and answer audience questions. Register to view the recording on-demand.