JUL 14, 2022 8:13 AM PDT

Emerging Research Could Soon Solve the Parkinson's Disease Diagnosis Challenge

WRITTEN BY: Zoe Michaud

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder with symptoms that begin gradually and worsen over time. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include uncontrollable movements such as shaking and stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

Since the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease begin gradually, early stages of the disease can be fraught with uncertainty for those suffering from the disease along with their loved ones. There are currently no laboratory tests to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Instead, cases are diagnosed through a neurological examination and by taking a person’s medical history. 

One known link to Parkinson’s disease is an enzyme called lysosomal glucocerebrosidase (GCase). Reduction in the activity of GCase is linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have been investigating GCase as a therapeutic target and as a potential diagnostic marker. 

By using GCase as a diagnostic marker, clinicians could develop a more definitive benchmark for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease rather than relying on medical history and neurological examination, both of which can result in a misdiagnosis at early stages of the disease. 

Accurately measuring GCase activity within lysosomes has proven to be logistically challenging in previous years. New research from researchers Matthew Deen and Yanping Zhu at Simon Fraser University, which outlines a new method to measure the activity of GCase, could change that.

The researchers use a fluorescence-quenched substrate, coined LysoFQ-GBA, to quantitatively measure GCase activity in tissue samples taken from patients. The researchers propose that clinicians may be able to utilize standard blood samples to detect GCase levels. 

David Vocaldo, co-author of the study, elaborates that “this is the first approach that has been shown to reliably and accurately report on the activity of this enzyme directly within lysosomes of living cells.” 

“Being able to measure the lysosomal activity of this enzyme in an accurate way could be very helpful in understanding the root causes of Parkinson’s as well as potentially helping to diagnose or track its progression,” Vocaldo says. 

Another potential application of this research is in advancing the development of new drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease. Their method could be used to directly monitor whether or not the drug is having the intended effect during clinical trials for drugs that target GCase. 

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Simon Fraser University


About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Zoe (she/her) is a science writer and a scientist working in genomics. She received her B.S. from the University of Connecticut with a focus in Evolutionary Biology. At Labroots, she focuses on writing scientific content related to clinical research and diagnostics.
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