It could soon be possible to measure the progression of Parkinson's disease with the help of a simple test, revealed US researchers. By comparing brain images of Parkinson's patients to those of a control group over a year's period, the researchers found that an area of the brain called the substantia nigra changes as the disease advances.
The substantia nigra of a Parkinson's patient has more 'free water' i.e. fluid unconstrained by brain tissue, likely because of disease-related degeneration. Researchers used diffusion imaging, a type of MRI, to show that free-water levels increase as the disease progresses. This free-water level was also a good predictor of how bradykinesia, the slowness of movement common to Parkinson's, advanced over the course of the subsequent year.
One of the study's authors David Vaillancourt, professor at University of Florida, said, "The findings provide the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-based method to measure the disease's progression, which can inform treatment decisions and aid in identifying new therapies. The Parkinson's drugs available today help reduce symptoms. They do not slow the progression of the disease, which is the major unmet medical need. We have provided a tool to test promising new therapies that could address progression."