Roundup: Landmark Study Finds Simple Biopsy Accurately Detects Parkinson’s, Other Degenerative Disorders; and More News

Skin Biopsy Test Accurately Detects Parkinson’s, Other Neurodegenerative Disorders, NIH-Supported Study Finds

With a very high degree of accuracy, a simple skin biopsy test detects an abnormal form of alpha-synuclein, the pathological hallmark of Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders known as synucleinopathies, according to new study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The special biopsy, called a Syn-One Test, was effective in identifying Parkinson’s disease with 93 percent accuracy. The test was already established as an accurate method of diagnosing different neurological disorders. But this study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA),is the first to focus on the subgroup of synucleinopathies.

Results from this study, validates this method “as a reliable and convenient tool to help physicians make more accurate diagnoses for patients and support future clinical trials for investigational drugs,” states a news release from the researchers behind the study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), a part of the Beth Israel Lahey Health system, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

Sameea Husain Wilson, D.O., director of Movement Disorder Neurology for Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital.

Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health, is one of just a handful of highly specialized centers of excellence in the region to offer a Syn-One Test, which identifies abnormal alpha-synuclein proteins in the nerve fibers of the skin. These proteins are linked to Parkinson’s and a range of other movement disorders.

The Syn-One Test involves three small and painless skin-punch biopsies, explains Sameea Husain Wilson, D.O., director of Movement Disorder Neurology for Marcus Neuroscience Institute. An earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s enables neurologists to start their patients on medications quicker, “which would translate into motoric stability and an improved quality of life,” said Dr. Husain.

“The procedure involves applying a numbing agent to three different areas on the body which include near the neck, the outer thigh and the outer calf, explains Dr. Husain. “The skin is totally numb. So, the patient feels nothing and the procedure is over in about 15 minutes. These skin samples are sent off to be analyzed and when they come back to me, they're going to confirm my clinical suspicion that the patient indeed has Parkinson’s disease.”

An estimated 2.5 million people in the U.S. are affected by the synucleinopathies, which include Parkinson’s disease (PD), dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), multiple system atrophy (MSA), and pure autonomic failure (PAF). “While the four progressive neurodegenerative diseases have varying prognoses and do not respond to the same therapies, they do share some overlapping clinical features such as tremors and cognitive changes,” state the new study’s authors.

For the study, researchers and colleagues at 30 academic and community-based neurology practices enrolled 428 people, ages 40-99 years, with a clinical diagnosis of one of the four synucleinopathies “based on clinical criteria and confirmed by an expert panel or were healthy control subjects with no history of neurodegenerative disease.”

Among the participants with clinically confirmed PD, 93 percent demonstrated a positive skin biopsy for P-SYN. Participants with DLB and MSA tested 96 percent and 98 percent positive, respectively.

Women With History of Pregnancy Complications Can Lower Future Heart Risks, Study Finds

Pregnancy complications put some women at higher risk for cardiovascular disease over time, but they can significantly lower that risk by following healthy behaviors associated with improved heart health for everyone, new research has found.

A healthy lifestyle that included managing blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels after giving birth significantly “lowered risk for future cardiovascular disease to rates on par with women who didn't have pregnancy complications,” the study found according to a news release from the American Heart Association. 

The findings were presented this month at the AHA’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health conference in Chicago. The study, however, is considered preliminary until full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal, the AHA states. .

"Previous studies have shown that women with a history of adverse pregnancy outcomes tend to have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life," said lead researcher Frank Qian, M.D., a cardiovascular medicine fellow at Boston Medical Center and a clinical instructor at Boston University's Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine, in a statement.  "However, it is unknown how much of this increased cardiovascular disease risk can be potentially modified by healthy lifestyle behaviors."

A 2021 AHA report found that many adverse pregnancy outcomes are linked to future cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

In the new study, adverse pregnancy outcomes included placental abruption, gestational diabetes, small size for gestational age, preterm birth and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, defined as preeclampsia or gestational hypertension.

Dr. Qian and colleagues analyzed data for 2,263 women in the UK Biobank database with a history of adverse pregnancy outcomes and 107,260 women with no history of complications. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease at the start of the study.

The researchers measured each woman's cardiovascular health using eight key metrics from the AHA, referred to as Life's Essential 8. These include eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, not smoking, getting enough sleep, and managing weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Scores ranged from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating better cardiovascular health.

“Those who achieved high cardiovascular health scores after pregnancy were at similar risk for cardiovascular disease as those with good heart health measures and no history of pregnancy complications,” the AHA states.

Researchers: COVID Can Damage the Heart Without Infecting Heart Tissue

COVID-19 can damage the heart, even if it doesn’t infect the heart tissue, a new study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found. The research, published in the journal Circulation, focused on damage to the hearts of people with COVID-associated “acute respiratory distress syndrome” –  or ARDS – which is a serious and potentially fatal lung condition.  

Researchers also found that organs beyond the heart could be affected – and viruses other than COVID could do similar damage. Researchers already knew that COVID-19 increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, while previous imaging studies have found that more that 50 percent of people who get COVID-19 experience some inflammation or damage to the heart.

“What scientists did not know is whether the damage occurs because the virus infects the heart tissue itself, or because of systemic inflammation triggered by the body’s well-known immune response to the virus,” states the NIH in a news release.

The researchers examined heart tissue specimens from 21 patients who died COVID-associated ARDS and compared them with specimens from 33 patients who died from non-COVID-19 causes. They also infected mice with COVID to follow what happened to the macrophages after infection.  Immune cells known as cardiac macrophages normally perform a critical role in keeping tissue healthy, but can become inflammatory in response to injury such as heart attack or heart failure. 

“This was a critical question and finding the answer opens up a whole new understanding of the link between this serious lung injury and the kind of inflammation that can lead to cardiovascular complications,” said Michelle Olive, Ph.D., associate director of the Basic and Early Translational Research Program at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of NIH, in a statement. “The research also suggests that suppressing the inflammation through treatments might help minimize these complications.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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