Researchers looks at brain changes in Parkinson's
A Canterbury University study is believed to be the first in the world to use an advanced technique that could help identify the early onset of dementia in people with Parkinson's disease.
Parkinson's disease is the second-most common degenerative disorder, after Alzheimer's disease, but many Parkinson's patients will also be diagnosed with dementia as a result of the disease.
The Canterbury study, which involved 101 Parkinson's patients and 25 healthy people, used a new technique to allow researchers to look at the brain while the patient was still alive to identify cell changes in the thalamus - a part of the brain involved in all aspects of function, except smell processing.
Previously, such brain changes in Parkinson's patients could be found only during the late stages of the disease.
There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but methods to treat the motor and cognitive symptoms could significantly improve a patient's quality of life and are more effective if started as early as possible.
Canterbury PhD student Nadia Borlase, who is working with the New Zealand Brain Research Institute and the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation on the project, said the researchers used advanced neurological imaging to identify the subtle brain changes that occurred before the cognitive symptoms of Parkinson's disease could be identified clinically.
The technique had been used in healthy people before but Borlase said she believed the New Zealand researchers were the first to use it in a neuro-degenerative condition like Parkinson's disease.
The researchers hoped others would be able to use the study to identify those who were most at risk of developing dementia, allowing treatment intervention to begin as early as possible.
"We're definitely pleased with what we've found and definitely think it will be useful," Borlase said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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