Skin tests may be able to detect Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Early detection of brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is crucial to effective treatment and prevention of brain tissue loss. Scientists know that these diseases begin long before their symptoms, sometimes as many as 20 years prior to any outward signs of the disorder occurring. However, techniques that allow for early detection are often invasive, such as spinal fluid tests, and none are ready for clinical use yet. 

A new study out of the University of San Luis Potosi in Mexico shows that an easy, non-invasive early test for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's may yet be possible. Led by Dr. Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva, the team of researchers studied 65 participants, including a control group of 12 healthy people and 53 who had either Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. They took small skin samples from behind the ear of each participant and tested them for two proteins, tau and alpha-synuclein, that are present in elevated levels in the brains of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients.

The researchers found that the participants with these brain disorders had elevated levels of the proteins in their skin compared to the healthy participants. This indicates that in the future, doctors may be able to use skin tests to detect the biomarkers, or biological signs, of early-stage degenerative neurological disorders.

Dr. Rodriguez-Leyva cautioned that the low number of participants makes more research necessary to confirm or disprove these results.

"More research is needed to confirm these results, but the findings are exciting because we could potentially begin to use skin biopsies from living patients to study and learn more about these diseases. This new test offers a potential biomarker that may allow doctors to identify and diagnose these diseases earlier on," he said in the study release.

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