SUN CITY, Ariz. — For Drs. Charles Adler and Thomas Beach, one of the most difficult parts of diagnosing Parkinson’s disease is that they could be wrong.
“There is no test, so we don’t have any way of looking at making a diagnosis while someone is alive,” said Adler, a neurologist with the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale.
But Adler and Beach, a senior scientist at the Banner Sun Health Research Institute, are reporting strides in developing the first diagnostic test to detect Parkinson’s, a devastating and chronic neurological disorder.
A study they conducted through the Mayo Clinic and Banner Health found that examining a portion of a person’s saliva gland may allow doctors to diagnose the disease.
They will present the study in March at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting.
Should this lead to a diagnostic test, Adler said he is pretty confident it will be able to change the course of the disease.
“Patients often undergo invasive treatment, and people who don’t have Parkinson’s don’t respond well,” Adler said. “Being able to tell people, ‘Yes, you do have Parkinson’s,’ would make it much easier.”
Diagnosis has for years occurred through a sometimes inaccurate examination of symptoms such as tremors, slowness of movement and muscle stiffness. Doctors have only found definitive answers through autopsies.
“That’s a big problem for clinical trials (of treatments or cures),” Beach said. “If you’re testing people with new drugs and only half actually have Parkinson’s disease, then right away you’re up against a problem.”
Adler said only 80 to 85 percent of patients autopsied actually had Parkinson’s, so a tissue test would guarantee diagnosis and lower chances of degeneration.
Beth Lee, 62, started showing symptoms of Parkinson’s almost nine years ago. She said she struggled turning her car keys, drawing circles and performing simple tasks, but having Parkinson’s never crossed her mind until she met with a specialist.
“I looked at him like he had 10 heads and said, ‘I have what?'” Lee said.
If she had the option of a diagnostic test, Lee said she could have saved the three years of degeneration it took to find out she had Parkinson’s.
Adler and Beach’s study tested tissue biopsies of 15 patients who showed symptoms of Parkinson’s for at least five years and responded to medications.
Of the 15 patients, 11 had enough tissue to examine. Of those 11, nine tested positive for the Parkinson’s protein.
Adler isn’t just professionally invested in this study. He has worked for nearly 30 years to improve the treatment and diagnosis of Parkinson’s, from which his grandfather suffered.
Some steps remain before a diagnostic test could be prepared for clinical use. Adler said the recent study and past autopsy results show the test’s success with advanced Parkinson’s patients, or those who have had the disease for at least five years.
But Beach said the team now needs to study the test’s accuracy on early Parkinson’s patients.
Tom Viviano, co-director of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association’s Arizona chapter, said the test could be helpful if a treatment or cure for the disease is discovered.
“This can become a way to routinely test for Parkinson’s,” he said.
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.