Detecting Parkinson's

March 20, 2009 6:15:40 PM PDT
Every nine minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. It's a neurological disorder that starts as a tremor and ends in death. Catching it early gives doctors more time to prevent the incurable disease from progressing, and doctors are using several new ways to do this.Steven Derman, John Kendell and Charmaine Frederick have Parkinson's.

"I can't button shirts," Derman told Ivanhoe. "I can't tie a tie."

"I was stiff, and my hand didn't move along my side" Kendell told Ivanhoe.

"Not being able to just get out of bed in the morning and be ready to go, [are] things you take for granted," Frederick told Ivanhoe.

The key to helping people with Parkinson's? Find out who has it before symptoms show. With traditional tests, that's hard to do. Neurologist Flint Beal, M.D., says 10 percent of patients are misdiagnosed. That's why he created a more definitive blood test.

"It relies on measuring a large number of chemicals in the blood," Dr. Beal, of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, N.Y., told Ivanhoe.

Comparing blood samples of 66 Parkinson's patients against healthy blood samples, different compounds emerged that were specific to Parkinson's patients.

Margie Chamberlain is hoping a smell test will put her mind to rest. Doctors at the Medical College of Georgia are using the test to help diagnose the disease early. People with a normal sense of smell can identify 35 out of 40 smells. People with Parkinson's can identify less than 20.

From the sense of smell to sight, researchers overseas are testing eye drops made of cocaine to diagnose Parkinson's. When 38 patients were given a 5 percent cocaine solution, their eyes dilated less than those without the disease, proving the Parkinson's patients had lost nerve function in their eyes.

A skin test for the disease is also in clinical trials. It tests for tiny protein deposits in the skin. Seventy percent of Parkinson's patients in the study tested positive for specific proteins.

Although for many it's too late to stop the progression, researchers hope what they're doing now will spare others the pain of Parkinson's in the future.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT:
Parkinson's Disease Foundation
http://www.pdf.org/
National Parkinson Foundation
http://www.parkinson.org

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