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With better diagnosis and treatment methods in mind, U takes part in study to identify biomarkers for Parkinson's

Paul Tuite, M.D., leads the U's portion of a study funded by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder that affects the central nervous system, is diagnosed in more than 50,000 Americans every year. Yet there is no test for diagnosing it or for predicting its progression.

The University of Minnesota is participating in a new research study called BioFIND that’s focused on identifying Parkinson’s disease biomarkers to ultimately help find better ways of diagnosing and treating the condition.

The University is one of five sites chosen by the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research for this groundbreaking two-year study.

A biomarker is a substance, process, or characteristic that is associated with the risk or presence of a disease, or one that changes over time with disease progression. Reliable and consistent biomarkers allow scientists to predict, diagnose, and monitor diseases and can be used to help determine which medications work and which do not.

There is currently no known Parkinson’s biomarker, according to Paul Tuite, M.D., principal investigator for the University’s portion of BioFIND and an associate professor in the Department of Neurology. That’s why, he says, even though there have been numerous drug trials for Parkinson’s disease in the past 10 to 20 years, the current crop of drugs being tested doesn’t appear to be stopping or reversing damage to the central nervous system; instead, today’s drugs help to manage symptoms.

Tuite says BioFIND is a particularly promising study because it involves collecting and analyzing spinal fluid, which, because it surrounds the brain and other parts of the central nervous system, could provide a host of useful information.

Tuite and his colleagues plan to focus their work on the presence of antioxidants, DNA variants, and various proteins in the blood and spinal fluid of study participants, who will include both Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers. And he’s optimistic about the road ahead.

“The goal is to help better diagnose patients, better predict their course,” Tuite says.

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