It’s been a topic in the news on and off this year. It even gave “The Worlds Greatest” the biggest fight of his life and at the age of 13 I too was introduced to this illness which
- I’d never heard of before
- Never realised existed
- Would have a major impact on both mine and close family members lives.
So what is it? After a visit from my Nan and Grandad to our new house in Cornwall they left and upon their return the following year brought with them a new companion. Mr Parkinson. Not a human being at all but in fact a new and now eternal disease which my Grandad like so many others is still battling today.
Parkinson’s Disease affects 1 in 500 people in the UK, a neurodegenerative disorder which predominantly has visible signs of tremor and muscle rigidity. The cause of the disease itself has been under scrutiny for the past two decades with a mix of genetic and environmental factors thought to play a role. Environmental factors can include exposure to industrial or rural areas as well as bacterial or viral infection. Typically, the disease likes to sneak up on its victims and take them by surprise later on in life normally over the age of 60. The motor symptoms of the illness such as tremors and stiffness precede the degeneration of nerve cells or neurons. These neurons are responsible for the production of the hormone dopamine, a chemical responsible for sending signals from one neuron to other neurons in the brain. In fact dopamine plays a significant role in reward pathways whereby “rewards” cause dopamine levels to rise – think addiction. This dopaminergic pathway is directly linked to a specific part of the brain known as the basal ganglia which is connected to the brain via five other major pathways. At the onset of Parkinson’s Disease all five of these are affected and since these are all linked to functions such as movement it is clear to see why the symptoms occur.
At present there is no one specific test for Parkinson’s Disease instead tools such as brain scans, MRI’s and invasive techniques examining cerebrospinal fluid. Yet there is no test which can distinguish between the different subtypes of the disease. Plus in many cases by the time such tests have been carried out the disease is relatively well advanced. However, in 2014 a team working at the Israel Institute of Technology published an article detailing a breath test which detects unique chemicals found in exhaled air. This is an exciting prospect for Parkinson’s sufferers not least because the test is non-invasive and could be a good point of care diagnostic tool. The study itself consisted of 57 participants some who had the disease and some who didn’t. The test was shown to be able to identify those who did have the disease through the detection of specific patterns of volatile organic compounds found in exhaled air.
More work needs to be carried out but it has prompted Parkinson’s UK and the University of Cambridge to come together and plan to conduct a larger study.
This is potentially a cheap and relatively easy way of testing for Parkinson’s which although wouldn’t replace the tests doctors do already it could be a good initial diagnostic tool. As for my Grandad, well this type of diagnosis is a little late yet there is hope that the information read by the test could in the future lead to new drug target options and potentially identify the disease much earlier.