More than 80 percent of Parkinson’s disease patients may develop dementia over the course of the degenerative illness.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine’s Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research have developed a way to predict who is at risk. Low levels of a protein in blood called epidermal growth factor or EGF may be a biological marker for the onset of dementia.
The study is still in its early stages, but if the results can be replicated in other patients, those at greater risk can be identified earlier.
Researcher Alice Chen-Plotkin is on the team that made the discovery. She said medically treating motor functions in Parkinson’s patients is easier than treating cognitive decline.
Blood-based biomarkers, when discovered, can tell a lot about a person’s medical future. “You can’t go and sample the brain and see if it’s accumulating lots of junk or are the neurons dying,” she said. “You need to try and get what’s going on in the brain in an indirect way.”
Patients with protein levels in the lowest range were eight times more likely to develop dementia.
Andrew Siderowf, a professor of neurology at the university, was part of the research team. He said treating dementia after signs start showing is nearly impossible.
“I think the real hope is that, in the future, there will be therapies that you can institute very early on before there are clinical signs and there are just biomarker signs,” he said.
According to the National Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, more than one million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with the illness.