SAN DIEGO — A joint group of researchers from UC San Diego and Arizona State University received funding from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to study possible treatments for the degenerative illness, UCSD announced Monday.
The research team will launch a two-year study to analyze roughly 2,500 blood samples for methylation, a DNA modification that can turn genes on and off without changing the DNA sequence. Researchers believe the identification of Parkinson’s biomarkers in the blood could eventually lead to improved car and new treatments.
“The exact cause of Parkinson’s is unknown, but evidence points to a combination of genetic and environmental factors,” said Paula Desplats, the study’s co-principal investigator and an assistant professor in UCSD’s Department of Neurosciences. “Right now, there is no objective test or biomarker for (Parkinson’s), which increases the risk of misdiagnosis and delayed treatment.”
Previous research has established a vague set of factors for Parkinson’s diagnoses, with age being the biggest. Men seem to be more susceptible to the disease, and exposure to toxins can cause the disease to develop, but a concrete cause has not been found. According to UCSD, current Parkinson’s treatment only treats the disease’s symptoms like tremors and stiffness rather than preventing its development.
“The genetic and environmental causes of most cases of Parkinson’s disease are diverse and, to this day, remain largely unknown,” said Travis Dunckley, the study’s other co-principal investigator and an assistant research professor at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. “We believe that, through studying the genome, we can discover common factors underlying this disease that will enable an earlier and more accurate diagnosis to be made and that, using these DNA markers, we may enable more rapid clinical trials by providing an additional way for physicians to track progression of the disease.”