In a groundbreaking development, scientists at the University of Arizona have unveiled a new and improved method for the early detection of Parkinson’s disease, potentially paving the way for more effective treatments.

KGUN 9’s Bri Pacelli spoke with the lead researcher, Dr. Lalitha Madhavan, to shed light on this significant advancement in Parkinson’s research.

Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder, is affecting approximately a million Americans, according to the Parkinson’s Foundation. The disease is commonly found between ages 60-65, but this new study may detect Parkinsons 5-10 years earlier.

Dr. Lalitha Madhavan, an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, emphasizes the gradual progression of the disease over the course of aging.

“Parkinsons disease is a neurological disorder or disease of the brain that develops pretty slowly over the course of aging,” explains Dr. Madhavan.

The impact of Parkinson’s disease extends across various aspects of an individual’s life, affecting movement, cognition, emotions, and even expression. Recognizing the multifaceted challenges posed by the disease, researchers at the University of Arizona set out to explore innovative approaches to improve detection and develop potential therapeutics.

Dr. Madhavan elaborates on their methodology, stating, “We use stem cell technologies as tools to look at Parkinsons disease, both in terms of understanding how Parkinsons disease occurs and also trying to develop some diagnostics and therapeutics for this condition.”

During the course of their research, the team discovered a new and distinct approach to studying Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Madhavan explains, “We use two types of cells. One is a skin cell called the fibroblast, and then the other is nerve cells that can actually reproduce from the skin cells.”

What makes this approach noteworthy is the identification of changes in skin cells rather than solely in brain cells.

Dr. Madhavan emphasizes the significance of this discovery, stating, “Changes in the brain cells can also be seen in the skin cells. And so skin cells can give us a window into some of the brain changes that could be occurring in Parkinsons disease.”

The utilization of skin cells as a proxy for brain cells is expected to streamline research processes, providing a more accessible avenue for studying Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Madhavan hopes that this breakthrough will assist doctors in detecting the disease in its early stages, potentially allowing for more effective interventions and improved patient outcomes.