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2020 Science Highlights from the American Academy of Neurology

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Each year, thousands of neurologists from across the world gather for the American Academy of Neurology's (AAN) Annual Meeting to hear about the latest research and clinical advancements in the field. Although the in-person meeting was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific progress is still happening and AAN is sharing presentations and presenting research online. Here, we share highlights relevant to Parkinson’s disease (PD).


  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) has previously funded research showing that people with Parkinson’s have different levels of alpha-synuclein in their tears. Mark Lew, MD, at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California led a study that collected reflex tears (tears that form naturally when your body needs to wash away irritants such as smoke or cold wind) from 98 patients at different stages of Parkinson’s and 43 control participants. They found that alpha-synuclein was significantly increased in tears of people with Parkinson’s — and highest among people with early-stage PD (zero to four years from diagnosis) — compared to control participants. This confirms previous findings that alpha-synuclein is increased in tears of people with PD compared to control participants and that levels are more pronounced earlier in the disease course.
  • Ruth B. Schneider, MD, at the University of Rochester worked with a team of investigators to describe the results of an online study — MJFF’s Fox Insight — and examine the validity of self-reported Parkinson’s diagnosis among participants. Over eight months, they enrolled 213 Fox Insight participants and completed online study visits with 203 people (165 with self-reported PD). They found agreement between self-reported and clinician-determined PD diagnosis in 193 out of 203 cases, with disagreement occurring in the other 10 cases. The study proved self-reported PD diagnosis in Fox Insight is accurate, which can help provide a case for more virtual doctor visits and clinical studies.
  • Jade Kenna, PhD candidate, at the Perron Institute of Neurological and Translational Science in Australia conducted a study that enrolled 167 patients with PD and 100 control participants. She used the Gastrointestinal Symptom Rating Scale (GSRS) and collected stool samples to examine the relationship between microbiota composition (the gut), gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and PD. She found that PD patients had significantly worse GI symptoms (e.g., acid reflux, constipation, nausea, vomiting) when compared to control participants. In addition, the study identified that the amount and types of bacteria in the gut were much different in PD patients when compared to control participants, and that reduced microbial diversity (i.e., having less healthy bacteria) was significantly associated with greater disease and GI symptom severity. These results provide evidence that assessments like the GSRS can be used to identify early symptoms in people with PD — as GI symptoms might show up before motor symptoms — and that more research into the gut-brain connection could lead to new ways to treat and manage Parkinson’s.

Even amid a global pandemic, momentum in Parkinson’s research continues. Stay tuned to our channels as more studies report results. And visit Fox Trial Finder to be matched with recruiting studies in your area.

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