Oxford University researchers have developed a simple and quick MRI technique that offers promise for early diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.
The new MRI approach can detect people who have early-stage Parkinson's disease with 85% accuracy, according to research published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
'At the moment we have no way to predict who is at risk of Parkinson's disease in the vast majority of cases,' says Dr Clare Mackay of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University, one of the joint lead researchers. 'We are excited that this MRI technique might prove to be a good marker for the earliest signs of Parkinson's. The results are very promising.'
Claire Bale, research communications manager at Parkinson's UK, which funded the work, explains: 'This new research takes us one step closer to diagnosing Parkinson's at a much earlier stage – one of the biggest challenges facing research into the condition. By using a new, simple scanning technique the team at Oxford University have been able to study levels of activity in the brain which may suggest that Parkinson's is present. One person every hour is diagnosed with Parkinson's in the UK, and we hope that the researchers are able to continue to refine their test so that it can one day be part of clinical practice.'
Parkinson's disease is characterised by tremor, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles. It's thought to affect around 1 in 500 people. There is currently no cure for the disease, although there are treatments that can reduce symptoms and maintain quality of life for as long as possible.
Parkinson's disease is caused by the progressive loss of a particular set of nerve cells in the brain, but this damage to nerve cells will have been going on for a long time before symptoms become apparent.
Conventional MRI cannot detect early signs of Parkinson's, so the Oxford researchers used an MRI technique, called resting-state fMRI, in which people are simply required to stay still in the scanner. They used the MRI data to look at the 'connectivity', or strength of brain networks, in the basal ganglia – part of the brain known to be involved in Parkinson's disease.