In a new study supported by the National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico, it has been discovered that a skin test could shed light on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It was demonstrated that elevated levels of abnormal proteins linked to the two diseases could be detected through skin biopsies. The work will be presented at the 2015 American Academy of Neurology’s 67th Annual Meeting (18-25 April) in Washington, DC, (US).
Alzheimer’s ranks as the sixth leading cause of death in the US, with some 5.4 million Americans currently diagnosed with the disease. Parkinson’s affects one million Americans, with 60,000 new cases reported annually.
Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva, the study’s author and an MD at the University of San Luis Potosi in San Luis Potosi (Mexico), explained the background to the study: “Until now, pathological confirmation was not possible without a brain biopsy, so these diseases often go unrecognized until after the disease has progressed. We hypothesized that since skin has the same origin as brain tissue while in the embryo that they might also show the same abnormal proteins. This new test offers a potential biomarker that may allow doctors to identify and diagnose these diseases earlier on.”
In the study, skin samples were tested for specific types of altered proteins linked to the two diseases. Researchers compared skin biopsies taken from 12 healthy individuals with 16 individuals with Parkinson’s disease, 20 with Alzheimer’s disease and 17 with dementia caused by other conditions, within the same age group. It was observed that those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson had seven times higher levels of the tau protein than the healthy control group and ones with dementia caused by other conditions. Additionally, patients with Parkinson’s had an eight times higher level of alpha-synuclein protein than the healthy group.
“More research is needed to confirm these results, but the findings are exciting because we could potentially begin to use skin biopsies from living patients to study and learn more about these diseases. This also means tissue will be much more readily available for scientists to study,” explained Rodriguez- Leyva. “This procedure could be used to study not only Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, but also other neurodegenerative diseases.”