Newswise — LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 17, 2020) — Researchers from the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine are leading a clinical study that could provide a promising new method for early detection of Parkinson’s disease.

A pilot grant from UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) will advance neuroscience researcher George Quintero’s studies on Parkinson’s disease to a clinical investigation, which will be co-led by UK Assistant Professor of Neurology Zain Guduru and Quintero.

Parkinson's disease is a nervous system disorder that affects dopamine-producing neurons in an area of the brain that controls movement. Currently, there is no way to diagnose the disease before symptoms – including tremors, stiffness and slowing of movement – occur. Although there is no cure for the disease, identification of Parkinson's at the earliest possible stage may provide the best opportunity for the use of therapies to relieve symptoms.

Previous research by a team that included Quintero, Zhiming Zhang, Anders Andersen and Greg Gerhardt from UK’s Department of Neuroscience found that apomorphine – an FDA-approved therapy for Parkinson’s – activated areas of the brain affected by the disease. Activity in the brain caused by apomorphine was visible on an MRI with blood oxygenation level dependent imaging, a method used to observe activity in different areas of the brain.

In the new clinical investigation scheduled to begin later this year, patients with Parkinson’s will undergo MRI brain scans before and after taking apomorphine. The same procedure will be performed with another group of patients that have a similar movement disorder called essential tremor. Although the symptoms of essential tremor are similar to Parkinson’s, the cause of the disorder is not related to dopamine production.

“If apomorphine causes a different brain response in the two groups of patients, it could be a promising method for earlier detection of Parkinson’s,” said Quintero. “And this leads to earlier interventions that can benefit patients.”

Quintero says the results could also provide framework for better understanding how the disease’s progression takes place, as well as more information about certain subpopulations of patients with Parkinson’s.

CCTS at UK unites clinicians, researchers and communities to accelerate translation of basic science discoveries to advance improvements in health. A grant from CCTS’ pilot funding program will fund Guduru and Quintero’s study for 18 months. It is common for these pilot program studies to receive larger NIH grants to fund continued research.

“This is truly a translational project. We often want to make that transition between basic science research to human research.” said Quintero. “CCTS provided the opportunity to continue this research right here at the University of Kentucky.”