Agilent and Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease has been in the news lately, especially with the recent death of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

Parkinson’s disease (named for James Parkinson, a British doctor) is a movement and motor system disorder that affects five million people worldwide.  It is characterized by four symptoms:

  • Tremors or trembling
  • Rigidity or stiffness
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination

Parkinson’s disease involves the malfunction and death of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain.  As the disease advances, thinking and behavioral problems – including dementia – may arise.  “Primary” Parkinson’s disease currently has no known cause.  “Secondary” Parkinsonism may be caused by toxins, pesticides and other causes.  (Experts are undecided whether Muhammad Ali suffered from primary Parkinson’s disease or secondary Parkinsonism caused by boxing.)  Interestingly, tobacco smokers have a reduced risk for Parkinsonism.

Parkinson’s disease is both chronic (it persists over time) and progressive (it gets worse over time).  There is no cure for the disease, though medication and surgery can help manage its symptoms.  Early detection is critical in order to slow or prevent its progression.

Scientists are using Agilent instruments and solutions to research Parkinson’s disease.  Researchers are particularly interested in identifying specific biomarkers that can help to diagnosis the disease and track its progression.

Several institutes, including the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, have funded BioFIND (Fox Investigation for New Discovery), a comprehensive research study to identify biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease in blood, DNA, RNA, cerebrospinal fluid, saliva and urine samples.  The team is using an Agilent Bioanalyzer system and TapeStation to ensure biospecimen quality.

In separate studies, two other research teams have used an Agilent Bioanalyzer system and RNA NanoChip kit for RNA isolation and quality control.  Researchers in Boston found that gene expression in blood could facilitate the development of biomarkers for Parkinson’s disease.

And an international team of researchers has discovered a gene that is underexpressed in Parkinson’s disease patients.  They have identified PGC-1α, which controls cellular bioenergetics, as a potential target for therapeutics for early intervention.

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