MRI 'Teardrop' test for Parkinson's

To identify people in the early stages of Parkinson's scientists are developing a new 'teardrop' test. Powerful MRI scans have revealed that suffers with this disease do not have a distinctive teardrop mark in their brains unlike the healthy people who do. Therefore this discovery could help doctors to diagnose this degenerative brain disorder and to track its progress and to monitor how the drugs taken are working.

Recently comedian Billy Connolly revealed that he is in the early stages of Parkinson's, other famous celebrities include Muhammed Ali, Michael J Fox and Bob Hoskins. This illness affects 127,000 Britons whom mostly are aged 60 or over.

Parkinson's destroys the brain cells which produce the chemical messenger dopamine in the part of the brain which controls movement, in conjunction with causing memory problems.

Researchers at Nottingham University and Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust believe they have found a biological marker that shows the presence of the disease within the brain. They have compared the brains of Parkinson's patients alongside healthy people using imaging techniques, focusing on nigrosomes, which are a cluster of dopamine-rich cells in a particular region of the brain.

Published in the journal Neurology the findings show that a telltale teardrop mark in the brains of healthy individuals is missing from those suffering with this disease.

Based at the University's Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre. The mark showed up under an extremely powerful 7T MRI scanner and Professor Penny Gowland said, “This was a breakthrough discovery, in that we now know that using this particular MRI scanner we can see that patients living with Parkinson's disease don't have this particular feature in their brain” Continuing on she stated “We are now conducting a study of patients with Parkinson's to ascertain when this mark actually disappears, which could potentially have huge implications for early diagnosis of this illness, and subsequently how it is treated.”

The Professor also added that there is a need for imaging tracking to help monitor the progression of the disease and allow for the development of neuroprotective drugs. Researchers now plan to develop a test that could be adapted to standard MRI scans.