Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease with skin samples could lead to earlier detection

Oct. 23, 2020

New research shows a simple skin test can accurately identify Parkinson’s disease (PD), demonstrating for the first time the feasibility of the method. Currently diagnosed by clinical signs and symptoms but only definitively diagnosed at autopsy, Parkinson’s disease is commonly misdiagnosed early in the disease course, complicating clinical trials of potential treatments, according to a press release from Iowa State University. 

The study, published in the scientific journal Movement Disorders, shows how a chemical assay can detect clumping of the protein alpha-synuclein in skin samples to help diagnose PD. The study’s authors said using the assay can lead to earlier detection of PD and better clinical trials. 

The researchers conducted a blinded study of 50 skin samples provided by the Arizona Study of Aging and Neurodegenerative Disorders (AZSAND)/Brain and Body Donation Program based at Banner Sun Health Research Institute. Half of the skin samples came from patients with Parkinson’s disease and half came from people without neurologic disease. By using the protein assay, researchers correctly diagnosed 24 out of 25 PD patients and only one out of 25 controls had the protein clumping. 

The research centers on a method known as the real-time quaking induced conversion assay, a test that was originally developed to detect mad cow disease. Laboratory scientists have spent several years optimizing the assay for detecting misfolded proteins in similar human and animal disorders. PD arises from misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins that accumulate in the brain leading to neuronal damage. 

Iowa State University has the release