Sheffield hunts for better diagnosis of brain disorder | Action Medical Research

Sheffield hunts for better diagnosis of brain disorder

28 June 2001
Sheffield is leading a new study designed to help medics more accurately diagnose Parkinson’s disease, says leading medical charity Action Research. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder in which sufferers become progressively slow, stiff and shaky. It effects one in every 100 of people over the age of 65, although in recent years the high-profile case of film and television star, Michael J Fox, has highlighted that Parkinson’s disease is not a condition exclusive to the older generations. Lead researcher Professor Paul Griffiths, who is head of neuroimaging at the University of Sheffield, says: ‘The exact cause of the illness is still unknown, and as yet there is no accurate way of diagnosing whether a living patient has PD. Only a post-mortem can define the disease.’ He adds: ‘Current techniques - in which medics carry out an assessment based on a set of clinical criteria - mean that almost one in five patients are wrongly diagnosed with PD when they have another condition with similar symptoms such as multiple system atrophy (MSA).’ A good reliable diagnostic technique is therefore needed and a new two-year study, funded by medical research charity, Action Research - which is committed to overcoming disease and disability - is designed to do just that. With backing of more than £66,000, the researchers will be looking at how much iron might play a role in the illness. Iron is essential for a number of brain processes but increased levels may be damaging to the individual, resulting in neurodegeneration. The Action Research team will carry out a series of tests using brain scanning to determine whether iron content in the brain can be used as a ‘measuring stick’ to assess PD progression. Professor Griffiths, who is based at the Academic Department of Radiology, as part of Sheffield’s Royal Hallamshire Hospital adds: ‘The aim is to develop a diagnostic technique to distinguish PD from MSA, so that time-consuming tests in the clinic are not necessary, and also to improve our understanding of the disease process.’ Action Research, which is fast approaching its 50th anniversary, is dedicated to helping overcome disease and disability for children, families and the elderly across the UK. The charity’s Touching Lives Campaign aims to raise £2m for vital medical research and more details can be found at For further information and interviews, please contact Nicole Duckworth in the Action Research press office on 01403 327403 Fax: 01403 210541, or email ISDN facilities are available. Fact-file:*About 120,000 people in the UK suffer from Parkinson’s disease *The four primary symptoms are tremor in the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, rigidity or stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement and impaired balance and co-ordination.*These symptoms become worse over time.*The disease results from a loss of brain cells that produce dopamine - a chemical that helps direct muscle movement and activity. *Loss of dopamine causes nerve cells to fire out of control, leaving patients unable to direct or control their movements in a normal manner. *As yet there is no premortem diagnostic test and only postmortem neuropathology can define the disease.
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