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Risk of Parkinson’s disease could be determined before a person is even born

Researchers say consumers who are diagnosed earlier in life may have had faulty cells from birth

Photo (c) IvelinRadkov - Getty Images
As researchers continue to explore ways consumers can reduce their risk for Parkinson’s disease, like drinking more coffee or checking their proximity to major roadways, a new study conducted by researchers from Cedars-Sinai found that a diagnosis could be determined before birth. 

The researchers found that cases of early-onset Parkinson’s disease, which affects patients under the age of 50, are likely linked to patients who were born with disordered brain cells. Knowing this, the researchers are hopeful they can create a drug that can help slow the advancement of Parkinson’s in these young patients. 

“Young-onset Parkinson’s is especially heartbreaking because it strikes people at the prime of life,” said researcher Dr. Michelle Tagliati. “This exciting new research provides hope that one day we may be able to detect and take early action to prevent this disease in at-risk individuals.” 

Roots of Parkinson’s 

The researchers had patients who had been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s participate in the study. The team used a special kind of stem cell, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), as a testing mechanism. 

The iPSCS allowed the researchers to manipulate the patients’ cells by reverting them back to the stage they were in when the patients were still in the embryo phase of development. This was beneficial because the researchers could then see if there were links to Parkinson’s that were present from birth; it also allowed them to determine how the patients’ bodies would react in the future. 

Using the patients’ specific genetic codes, the researchers were able to replicate dopamine neurons, the neurotransmitter most closely related to Parkinson’s. From there, they could assess the trajectory of how those cells would respond in each patient from the time of birth through the course of their lives. The researchers discovered that early-onset Parkinson’s was linked to brain cells that the patients’ were born with. 

“What we are seeing using this new model are the very first signs of young-onset Parkinson’s,” said researcher Clive Svendensen, PhD. “It appears that dopamine neurons in these individuals may continue to mishandle alpha-synuclein over a period of 20 or 30 years, causing Parkinson’s symptoms to emerge.” 

Disease prevention

With this information, the researchers then wanted to see what they could do to protect these individuals who had been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s. 

During early testing, the researchers have been able to identify PEP005 as a potentially viable drug option. When tested on both the participants’ cells and those of lab mice, the researchers saw improvements in the levels of alpha-synuclein. 

The researchers hope that PEP005 can be used as either a method of treatment or prevention for younger people affected by this disease.  

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