New protein helps predict dementia for those with Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease affects one in 100 Americans over the age of 60.

Along with its debilitating physical effects, many patients will develop mental decay.

But a protein in the blood may be key in discovering which patients have the highest risk for developing dementia.

54-year-old Michael Young had never ridden a motorcycle before, but he got a brand new cruiser last year. An impulse buy, but for Young, it was now or never.

"I knew if I had Parkinson's disease, I was going to have a limited amount of time to do the things I wanted to do in life,” he said.

Young was diagnosed in 2008. He had been having tremors and a difficult time moving, hallmark symptoms of the disease.

Parkinson's disease expert Dr. Alice Chen-Plotkin says 80 percent of Parkinson’s patients who have had the disease for 20 years or more develop dementia. She adds that there has been no way to tell how at risk any given patient might be. In the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, researchers examined 150 different proteins in the blood. They found one called epidermal growth factor, or EGF, that may predict a patient's cognitive function.

"What we found was that people who had low EGF levels were much more likely to develop dementia over the next two years, eight times more likely than people in other groups,” she said.

Chen-Plotkin says if doctors can determine a patient's dementia risk, it could speed up clinical trials of new therapies. It can also help patients prepare for what may lie ahead.

The EGF blood test is not currently available, except to patients involved in research studies.

Dr. Chen-Plotkin says follow-up studies on the blood test will conclude next year.

Research summary:

Background: Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that affects nerve cells in the portion of the brain that controls muscle movement. These nerve cells create a chemical called dopamine, which will die or stop functioning properly. Dopamine is significant to the body because it sends signals from the brain to help coordinate movement. Parkinson's patients often experience a series of symptoms such as tremors, rigid movements, and loss of mental functions. As symptoms worsen, people with the disease may have trouble walking, talking or performing simple tasks. They may also have problems such as depression, sleep deprivation or trouble chewing, swallowing or speaking.

Parkinson's is one of a larger group of neurological conditions known as motor system disorders. Historians say the disease dates back as far as 5000 BC. it was first described as "the shaking palsy" in 1817 by British doctor James Parkinson.
(source: www.parkinsons.org)

Physical and mental impact: Parkinson’s disease affects one in every 100 Americans over the age of 60. Along with its debilitating physical effects, many patients will develop mental decay. Studies are suggesting that a protein in the blood may confirm which patients have the highest risk of developing dementia.

New test: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine examined 150 different proteins in the blood. They found one called epidermal growth factor, or EGF, may predict a patient's cognitive function. EGF is a growth factor that plays an important role in the regulation of cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. Patients who had low egf levels were much more likely to develop dementia.

Dr. Alice Chen-Plotkin of Udall Center for Parkinson’s Research at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine says if doctors can determine a patient's dementia risk, it could expedite clinical trials of new therapies.

For more information, please contact:
Kim Menard
Penn medicine department of communications
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 662-6183
Kim.menard@uphs.upenn.edu


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