The monitoring and assessment of the symptoms/features of Parkinson’s is a big deal in the research community at the moment.
There is currently a mad hunt for ‘biomarkers’ – reliably measurable physical characteristics – that could help not only with the assessment of individuals living with the condition, but could also aid in the running of clinical trials by providing additional measures of efficacy/benefit.
Recently an interesting perspective was written by some of the leading researchers in this field.
In today’s post, we review what the perspective outlined, and we will discuss other aspects of the biomarker research that need to be considered by the wider Parkinson’s community.
Perspective. Source: Huffingtonpost
Scientific journals will often invite the research leaders in a particular field of investigation to write a brief journal article that deals with unique view of a common problem.
Articles of this nature are called ‘Perspectives‘.
And recently a very interesting perspective was published in the journal Science on the topic of biomarkers for Parkinson’s.
Title: Finding useful biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease
Authors: Chen-Plotkin AS, Albin R,….a lot of additional authors…, Zhang J
Journal: Science Translational Medicine, 15 Aug 2018, 10 (454), eaam6003.
This perspective included a rather long list of a ‘who’s-who’ of Parkinson’s researchers – both academic and industry. Even members of the Michael J Fox Foundation and Verily/Google Life Sciences were included.
The perspective sought to highlight ‘the “ecosystem” of shared biofluid sample biorepositories and data sets will focus biomarker efforts in Parkinson’s‘. It is a very enlightening read, one that begs for reader responses. But sadly the article is behind a ‘pay wall’, and so many in the Parkinson’s community won’t be able to provide any thoughts or feedback.
But not to worry, we can discuss the matter here. And the best place to start that discussion is with the obvious first question:
What is a biomarker?
A biomarker is an objectively measurable physical characteristic associated with a condition. It is a biological component of a condition that correlates with that condition in some way. For example, the DaTscan brain imaging technique provides a ‘biomarker’ for Parkinson’s by measuring the amount of dopamine re-absorption in the brain. By labelling the dopamine neurons with a radioactive marker, we can quantify the levels of dopamine activity in a person.
An example of a DaTscan. Source: Cedars-sinai
What did the perspective say about biomarkers for Parkinson’s?
Recently a study was published in which the researchers had used a large dataset from the the United States Medicare system. The dataset held medical prescriptions for beneficiaries aged 60–90 years.
In their analysis, the researchers found that several diagnoses commonly treated with immunosuppressant medications were inversely associated with Parkinson’s – suggesting that perhaps the immunosuppressants may be reducing the risk of developing PD.
When they looked closer at the immunosuppressants, the investigators found that of the six categories of immunosuppressants, two were clearly associated with a lower risk of PD.
In today’s post, we will discuss what immunosuppression means, we will review the data, and we will consider some of the issues associated with immunosuppressants.
George Hitchings and Gertrude Elion. Source: Achievement
After her grandfather died of stomach cancer and her fiance died of inflammation of the heart, Gertrude Elion dedicated herself to a future in medical research.
But despite a passionate love for laboratory research and having an excellent academic record, she was unable to get a graduate fellowship (or even an assistantship) due to the gender discrimination that existed at the time.
In the late 1930s, she enrolled in secretarial school with the goal of saving enough money to continue her education and achieve her goal.
After a year and a half of temporary secretarial and teaching positions, having saved up enough money, Elion enrolled as Master’s student in chemistry at New York University. She worked part-time as a receptionist and later as a substitute teacher to pay for her expenses. And she spent nights and weekends in the laboratory doing her research. She completed her degree in 1941.
George & Gertrude in action. Source: Wikimedia
In 1944, Gertrude was hired by George Hitchings who was working at what is now the pharmaceutical company GlaxsoSmithKline. It was the beginning of an amazing collaboration! And even though she never achieved a PhD, the work that she and Hitchings did together – research that won them the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – not only changed the way we design new drugs, but also gave the world its first drugs for immunosuppression.
What is immunosuppression?