New Guidelines for Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis
Medical experts are proposing new criteria for Alzheimer's disease to help diagnose patients earlier, according to a recent New York Times article. The criteria are based on new tools that may be able to detect the disease in the brain, blood or spinal fluid even before there are symptoms. These new tools, called biomarkers, are also being developed for Parkinson's disease to help diagnose the disease and track its progression. Biomarkers will also help drug developers determine whether a potential new therapy is working to slow or stop PD.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation sat down with Ken Marek, MD, of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders to discuss how biomarkers will impact PD diagnosis and treatment as well as drug development.
MJFF: What does this news mean for Parkinson's patients?
KM: The development of biomarkers will impact patients in two ways. One is to improve diagnostic accuracy so that individuals who can benefit from therapy will get therapy. In Parkinson's disease, diagnosis can be difficult or confused with another similar illness.
The second is to identify people at risk to develop Parkinson's disease as early as possible, even before typical symptoms begin. Ultimately, when there are drugs that can slow or stop Parkinson's disease progression, biomarkers will be able to identify people so that they can receive treatment at the earliest stage of illness. In the meantime, I think biomarkers can still provide people with important information about their health that enables them to make decisions about their life choices.
MJFF: How will PD biomarkers impact Parkinson's research?
KM: With the development of biomarkers, drug companies will have the opportunity to identify and assess people at earlier stages of disease. For both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, one of the problems that drug companies have had is that current methods of diagnosis only identify patients after symptoms start. Particularly with Parkinson's disease, clinical trials of disease-modifying therapies may be more successful if they are tested in patients at earlier stages of disease, when there is less neuronal loss. Biomarkers will also help provide researchers with better ways to track whether a therapy can alter disease progression in clinical trials.
MJFF: You are the principal investigator for the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), which aims to develop biomarkers of PD. How does PPMI play into this news?
KM: PPMI is an ambitious study to identify and validate biomarkers for Parkinson's disease progression. It will establish a remarkable database and an extensive library of biological samples that will be used in studies by the PPMI investigative team. The data and samples will also be open to the neurological community for further study. The study will include 400 newly diagnosed Parkinson's patients and 200 people without the disease to serve as controls. PPMI will be conducted at 18 sites in the United States and Europe and is expected to take five years to complete. Our goal is to have one or more PD biomarkers by the end of the study.
MJFF: Do you see a day when people are routinely screened for neurological disorders?
KM: Absolutely. I think that day is coming soon. I think there will be a day when people get their colonoscopy, their mammogram and screening for neurodegenerative diseases like PD.