New research suggests checking intestines for signs of Parkinson's

While a lot Parkinson's research is based on the brain, one study is focusing on an unexpected part of the body. New findings could revolutionize how the devastating disease is treated.

Richard Bailey can't play the guitar like he used to.

He has taken part in several studies. The most recent was the most unusual.

"Well, it's the first time I've had a gastroenterology examine as part of a neurological exam so that was a bit of a surprise," said Bailey.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center have discovered a bad protein in the intestine .that only shows up in Parkinson's patients.

Doctor Kathleen Shannon said when the protein gets to the brain, these Parkinson's symptoms appear.

"If you can detect it when it's just in the intestinal wall and then prevent the spread, then patients would never have to develop typical nervous system symptoms that can cause so much disability," said Dr. Shannon.

Doctor Jeffrey Kordower hopes the protein turns out to be a biomarker.

"Maybe we'll be able to tell who gets Parkinson's before they get Parkinson's," said Dr. Kordower, neurology researcher at Rush University Medical Center

The goal is to develop a screening process and a treatment that attacks the protein while it is still in the intestines.

Richard hopes his role in the research means an end to Parkinson’s.

The number for people interested in the research study is: (312) 563-2900 (then press 4 for participation information)

The study is recruiting in Chicago, SW Michigan, Quad cities, Wisconsin and NW Indiana
Dr. Shannon says the initial pilot study was small, so more research needs to be done. Right now, Rush University Medical Center is recruiting for further studies.

BACKGROUND: Parkinson's disease is a disorder in the brain which leads to shaking and difficulty with walking, movement, and coordination. Parkinson's is one of the most common nervous system disorders of the elderly and it most often develops after the age of 50, although it can sometimes occur in younger adults. Parkinson's disease occurs when the nerve cells in the brain that make dopamine are slowly destroyed, and without dopamine the nerve cells in that part of the brain cannot properly send messages leading to the loss of muscle function. Why the brain cells begin to be destroyed is unknown. (Source:

SIGNS/SYMPTOMS: The first symptoms of Parkinson's disease can be hard to diagnose, especially in older patients, and often start out mild and worsen over time. The most common signs of Parkinson's disease are shaking, called tremors, and jerky, stiff movements. Some of the other possible signs include:
* Constipation
* Depression, anxiety, and memory loss
* Slowed movements, slow blinking, and slowed speech
* Difficulty swallowing and drooling
* Problems with balance and walking

TREATMENT: There is no known cure for Parkinson's disease and treatment is aimed at controlling the symptoms of the disease. Parkinson's patients will often times take medications, most of which increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, to control their symptoms but eventually the effects of the medication will wear off and symptoms will return. Some of the medications used to treat movement-related symptoms of Parkinson's are Levodopa, Pramipexole, Sinemet, and Amantadine. The patient may also take other medications for anything from depression to sleep disorders, as well as for pain. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Alpha-synuclein is a protein deposited in cells of the brain in Parkinson's patients and is considered a pathologic hallmark of the disorder. The physicians from Rush University found that this same protein can be seen in the nerve cells in the wall of the intestine in patients in the early stages of Parkinson's, but the protein cannot be seen in patients without the disorder. The physicians wanted to prove that alpha-synuclein aggregates in biological tissue before the onset of motor symptoms of Parkinson's, and they are one of the first to demonstrate this. The physicians analyzed tissue samples of three patients from colonoscopies taken two to five years before the first symptoms of Parkinson's. Every sample showed the protein in the wall of the lower intestine. The hope is that this can be used as a simple early detection device for the disorder so that treatment can begin earlier and hopefully with better results. (Source:


Deborah Song
Associate Director, Media Relations
(312) 942-0588

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