Mayo clinic researchers explore new methods to detect Parkinson's disease in at-risk individuals

July 01, 1999

ROCHESTER, MINN.-- Mayo Clinic neurologists are using existing technology and an investigational drug to detect pre-symptomatic Parkinson's disease in at-risk people who have family members with Parkinson's disease. A study detailing the results of this new approach appears in the July issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

The study makes use of a widely available brain imaging technique, single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), in combination with the investigational radiopharmaceutical beta CIT. The beta CIT drug binds to the specific nerve cells in the brain that decrease in number when a patient has Parkinson's disease. The SPECT camera is able to measure how much of the drug binds to the remaining nerve cells in the brain. Through these methods, Mayo Clinic researchers were able to differentiate between 10 Parkinson's disease patients and 10 control individuals. As expected, the amount of the drug that was detected for the Parkinsons disease patients was reduced.

The Mayo Clinic researchers also studied 10 relatives of Parkinson disease patients and found that the amount of the drug that bound to the nerve cells in their brain fell in a range between that of the Parkinson's disease patients and the controls.

"Our goal is to determine who is really at risk before people actually develop the symptoms of Parkinson's disease," says Demetrius M. Maraganore, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist and the lead author of the study. "We know from a recent Mayo Clinic study that overall there is a three percent lifetime risk of developing Parkinson's disease. We also know that for persons having two or more relatives with Parkinson's disease, their lifetime risk is increased to nearly 30 percent. For the current U.S. population, an estimated 200,000 people have this risk factor. This high-risk group is likely larger when one considers other independent risk factors.

"The key for future research of Parkinson's disease is to find ways to discover who is most at risk and to develop therapies that can delay or prevent the onset of this disease," says Dr. Maraganore. "The results of our study are very encouraging, but clearly there needs to be continuing research and development in this area."

Mayo Clinic

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