Last updateWed, 22 Nov 2017 8am


Rowan University Discovers Breakthrough in Parkinson’s Disease Research

Parkinson DiseaseA team of researchers at Rowan University may have discovered a blood test that can detect symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative illness, before the symptoms become fatal in patients.

Researchers from the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, working with Durin Technologies, a company based in New Brunswick, believe that they have found a simple blood test that would detect early stages of the disease.

If they are correct, having the results of the blood test could potentially give notice of symptoms years before the appearance of any physical signs. In most cases, by the time the physical signs are noticeable, 50 percent of the involved brain tissue has deteriorated and the disease is past the point of treatment.

The test was developed during the course of a year-long study, led by Dr. Robert Naegle, who is the Director of the Biomarker Discovery Center at Rowan University’s New Jersey Institute for Successful Aging. Naegle had a team made up of mostly medical students. The researchers used human protein microarrays, and were able to identify a panel of antibodies that act as markers to detect the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Immunology Letters, took between five and six million dollars to complete over the course of about a year. It was partially funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Those involved with the study are now trying to find a financial partner to provide funding towards getting approval from the FDA. According to the published journal article, the test shows an overall accuracy of 90 percent in the 398 tested subjects.

“Currently, there is no simple and reliable diagnostic test for Parkinson’s disease,” said Naegle in a press release. “Instead, diagnosis relies on clinical observation of patients’ symptoms and is only accurate about three-quarters of the time. An accurate, inexpensive and relatively non-invasive test for early-stage Parkinson’s could have a profound impact that leads to earlier treatment of patients and allows for early enrollment of patients into clinical trials.”

According to, Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative illness that can take years to develop. The cells in the midbrain, which control body movements, begin to weaken and produce less dopamine, leading to serious symptoms. It is often hard to detect – the first signs, such as feelings of weakness or stiffness, or the trembling of one hand, are often barely noticeable. As time goes on, the symptoms become more severe, and balance and coordination deteriorate. Depression, cognitive issues, and other mental and emotional problems are common. While the disease itself is not fatal, it is the symptoms that lead to death.

“Usually people learn they have Parkinson’s disease when symptoms are already presenting and the disease has progressed,” said Andrea Hope, an associate professor of health studies at the University. “The symptoms of Parkinson’s can be very severe and include motor symptoms such as rigidity, tremors, and bradykinesia. There are also non-motor symptoms, such as disordered speech, swallowing problems, and mood disorders.”

Hope described the importance of early detection. “If biomarkers are present, patients would be able to begin medical treatment and make lifestyle changes even before symptoms emerge. Early diagnosis would also allow researchers to distinguish between the different stages of the disease and patient responses to medical and lifestyle intervention. There may be potential to slow the progression of this disease, and that would be wonderful. This is definitely an exciting breakthrough, but we need more research to confirm the findings of the study before making the tests available.”

“This is the first diagnostic test for Parkinson’s disease that can identify the disease in its earliest, almost pre-symptomatic stages with high overall accuracy,” said Cassandra Alicia DeMarshal, one of the students  at Rowan involved with the research.

“We don’t currently have an ETA for when the test will be available. Our next step is to seek FDA approval by conducting clinical trails using our diagnostic test in larger subject groups. Once approval is achieved, the test can then be marketed for use by the general public,” DeMarhal continued.

If this blood test becomes available, it could be added to the panel of tests that are run on patient blood samples during annual checkups. In this case, even patients that had no idea that they were at risk for the disease could catch it in the early stages and seek treatment before it progresses.

“I think it would have a large impact, especially because it is one of those diseases that progresses over time,” said Dr. Dorothy Lobo, associate professor and Co-chair of the University’s Biology Department. “The earlier it [the disease] is known, the more likely it is that you’d be able to find a better treatment for it.”

“Currently there are no treatments that can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Treatments and therapies available now only serve to help manage a patient’s symptoms – meanwhile, the patient will continue to get progressively worse and experience increased disability over the course of the disease,” said DeMarshal.

“I think it’s good,” said sophomore biochemistry student Lauren Lucia. “It could help people, and it’s early onset detection, so it can make people’s lives better.”


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