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Simple Skin Test May Detect Alzheimer's And Parkinson's Years In Advance, Study Says

02/25/2015 01:48 pm ET | Updated Feb 25, 2015
Arthur Tilley via Getty Images

While severe problems with the memory and the nervous system are hallmarks of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's respectively, it's the skin that could detect the disease early on, perhaps even before symptoms surface.

A new study says a simple skin test could be the next breakthrough in predicting the onset of neurodegenerative diseases before obvious symptoms appear. Researchers from the University of San Luis Potosi predicted that evidence of the diseases could be found in skin samples, as brain and skin tissues have the same origin. They studied 53 people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and dementia, taking samples of skin tissue in a minimally invasive procedure, and compared them against the samples of 12 healthy people.

As they'd expected, people with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's had seven times the amount of tau protein, which forms problem-causing tangles in the brain, as the healthy control group. The Parkinson's group also had eight times the amount of alpha-synuclein protein, which some studies say is related to the risk of developing the disease.

The study has some limitations due to its relatively small scope, but researchers say the method could improve future research in the area. There is currently no cure for Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, but early detection and treatment are stressed for managing the diseases. Diagnosis typically consists of lab tests, brain imaging, and physical exams, though recent research has come up with more unconventional ways of detection. In 2013, researchers experimented with a peanut-butter smell test for Alzheimer's and a blood test for Parkinson's.

"Until now, pathological confirmation was not possible without a brain biopsy, so these diseases often go unrecognized until after the disease has progressed,” study author Ildefonso Rodriguez-Leyva said in a statement. “We hypothesized that since skin has the same origin as brain tissue while in the embryo that they might also show the same abnormal proteins. This new test offers a potential biomarker that may allow doctors to identify and diagnose these diseases earlier on.”

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