Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's


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High-powered MRI may provide Test for Parkinson’s

One of the peculiarities of Parkinson’s Disease is that there is no definitive test for it. To be sure, you get a battery of tests on the NHS, but they (blood tests and an “ordinary” MRI scan) are all to check for alternative diagnoses, not to see if you actually do have Parkinson’s. There is a scan which makes use of a radioactive chemical called Ioflupane (123I), or DaTSCAN – this makes dopamine transmitters visible to a gamma camera, and so should allow levels of dopamine to be registered. However, it is not a conclusive test and is often considered too expensive. When I asked my consultant about it, he was quite dismissive (whether because it was unlikely to work in my case or because of the cost, I am not sure).

Only yesterday, I came across an article that suggested that many cases of Parkinson’s were misdiagnosed.  It seems to have been news in 2006. Which is quite a long time ago; the implication in the article is that GPs (family doctors) lacked experience with Parkinson’s and that a specialist should make the diagnosis (they do this by knowing what to look for – it’s quite vague but experience, it seems, helps a lot).

Anyway. Back to the matter referred to in the title. A research institute in Canada has a 7 Tesla MRI machine – exceptionally strong for a medical design (standard medical MRIs are around 1.5 Tesla) – which allows them to get a particularly high-definition scan of the brain. Apparently, it is possible to see the difference between a Parkinsonian brain and a normal one using this equipment. Continue reading

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Australian Researchers’ Insight into Parkinsonian Freezing

Researchers at the University of Sydney have developed a novel way of investigating the phenomenon of “freezing” in Parkinson’s (a sudden, inexplicable cessation of movement that often occurs while walking). Basically, they have combined an MRI scanner with a pedal-operated walking simulator that can be used while lying down. This allows them to see what the brain is up to while a patient is “walking” through a virtual world that features corridors and doorways (narrow doorways often trigger freezing episodes).

The results of the study indicate that, while walking itself requires very little brain activity, as soon as freezing occurs, the brain goes into overdrive:

”… As soon as you freeze, it absolutely flips. The front area switches off and then all these other bits – the prefrontal cortex that is trying to reason and these bits at the back that deal with sensory input – all switch on.”

Dr Simon Lewis, director of the Parkinson’s Disease Research Clinic at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Research Institute (BMRI), quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald

The researchers also hope that the virtual world can also be used to train the brain.

“It is possible that exercising in VR may offer a potential way of improving symptoms without the need for medications or surgery.”

Dr Simon Lewis, quoted in a University press release