Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system. Often starting with a barely noticeable tremor in one hand, the disease affects a person's movement and becomes more noticeable over time. Persons with Parkinson's may have tremors in the limbs, slowed movement, rigid or painful muscles, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements like blinking, changes in speech, or noticeable changes to their handwriting. The disease may also cause cognitive problems, depression, issues with chewing or swallowing, and sleep disorders.
Though the cause of the disease is unknown, some factors may put people at an elevated risk. These risk factors include advanced age, a family history of the illness, being male, or in rare cases, ongoing exposure to chemicals.
In addition to scientists still attempting to uncover the cause of Parkinson's, there is no known method for preventing it.
There is also no way to test for the disease. To be diagnosed with Parkinson's, a neurologist will generally review a patient's medical history and conduct a physical exam. Though some doctors may order imagining tests, these are only to support the diagnosis by ruling out disorders with similar symptoms.
Currently, treatments for the disease rely on medications. These cannot cure Parkinson's but can help to control the symptoms. Physical therapy or exercise programs may also be recommended to patients to help them maintain balance and fluidity of movement as the disease progresses.
Researchers in the department of biomedicine at the Aarhus University have recently taken blood samples from Parkinson's patients and a control group and subjected the samples to the protein Alpha-Synuclein. The accumulation of this protein in the brain is thought to be a possible cause of Parkinson's disease.
In doing this, scientists discovered that the immune cells of Parkinson's patients were significantly worse at clearing the protein. Because the immune cells are dysfunctional in Parkin’s patients, immune-regulating drugs may be useful. The study, published in the journal Movement Disorders, suggests that such medication might help slow the disease's progression.
With early diagnosis, such a therapy could extend the time Parkinson's patients had before degeneration to their movement occurred.
This development would be incredible news for the 60,000 new cases of the disease diagnosed amongst Americans each year.