Mayo Clinic Arizona and Banner Sun Health Research Institute said today they won a $152,486 grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to develop a diagnostic test to identify patients in the disease’s early stages.

Researchers from both institutions will seek cell protein from patients with early stages of Parkinson’s, and compare the protein’s presence in people without the disease. The study is designed to help underpin a diagnostic based on a transcutaneous submandibular gland biopsy.

Investigators involved with the new study have also previously found the protein in patients in advanced stages of Parkinson’s, who have had the disease more than five years, and are now studying early-stage patients ages 18 to 85 with the disease for less than five years.

In the new study, patients will undergo a neurological research exam at Mayo Clinic Arizona by principal investigator, Charles Adler, M.D., Ph.D., then undergo a radioactive scan for brain signs of the disease, followed by the submandibular gland biopsy.

Tissue from the biopsies will be tested for the Parkinson’s disease protein at Banner Sun Health Research Institute by the study’s co-principal investigator Thomas Beach, M.D., Ph.D. Investigators believe the procedure may also help in guiding patients selection for experimental therapies.

“We’re hoping our biopsy will be 80-to-90% accurate in these early-stage patients, just like it was for the later-stage patients,” Dr. Beach, director of Banner’s Civin Lab for Neuropathology, said in a statement.

Back in January, researchers published results suggesting that testing a portion of a person’s saliva gland may be a way to diagnose the disease. Those results arose from a study in which 11 of 15 people who had Parkinson’s disease for an average of 12 years had a much higher presence of the abnormal Parkinson’s protein in their lower jaw glands than their lower lip glands.

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