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Digital Biomarkers Shown to Highlight Parkinson’s Disease

MRI image of white matter fibers in the brain

MRI image of white matter fibers in the brain (Human Connectome Project, NIH)

7 July 2023. Early findings indicate calculations from MRI scans of white matter lesions in the brain can distinguish between Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. An executive from the medical technology company BrainTale in Strasbourg, France reported results of the study at the European Academy of Neurology meeting in Budapest and World Parkinson Congress in Barcelona earlier this week.

BrainTale is a five year-old company developing diagnostics of neurological diseases from diffusion MRI scans of white matter in the brain. White matter is the name given to nerve fibers and protective myelin around those fibers, instead of neurons themselves, called the brain’s gray matter. Changes in the condition of white matter are associated with head trauma and stroke, as well as the neurological disorders Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, multiple sclerosis, and adrenoleukodystrophy or ADL, a rare disorder.

The BrainTale technology calculates the state of white matter from diffusion MRI scans, a form of magnetic resonance imaging that reads and measures motion of water molecules in tissue, indicating the state of that tissue at a granular level. With white matter, diffusion MRI can reveal tracks or lesions that suggest damage in the brain associated with neurological disorders. BrainTale says its system provides objective calculations of white matter lesions called brainQuant, and a separate measure predicting recovery from a coma called brainScore.

Biomarkers from water molecule diffusion patterns

At the meetings, BrainTale CEO and chief scientist Vincent Perlbarg reported on initial findings from a study conducted by Stéphane Lehéricy, who heads the neuroradiology department at the Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière, affiliated with the Sorbonne in Paris. Lehéricy and colleagues took diffusion MRI scans of 81 patients, 46 of whom diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive and degenerative condition where brain cells stop making the neurotransmitter dopamine that coordinates muscle movement. People with Parkinson’s disease experience tremors, slowness, stiffness, and walking and balance problems, along with depression, memory problems, and other non-movement symptoms.

The remaining 35 patients were diagnosed with other neurodegenerative disorders often having symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease: tauopathy or deposits of toxic tau proteins on brain cells, alpha-synucleinopathy, and multiple system atrophy. The findings show one digital biomarker, a computation of water molecule diffusion in white matter, accurately highlights people with Parkinson’s disease, compared to patients with tauopathy and alpha-synucleinopathy. Another biomarker, a separate water-molecule pattern calculation, also distinguishes Parkinson’s disease from people diagnosed with alpha-synucleinopathy.

The researchers say the results show these digital biomarkers form the basis for more precise and early diagnostics of Parkinson’s disease. “The presentation of those first results,” says Perlbarg in a BrainTale statement released through BusinessWire, “in collaboration with Prof. Lehéricy’s teams at these two major conferences strengthens BrainTale’s strong commitment to patients suffering from Parkinson and Parkinson’s related symptoms, for whom diagnostic and therapeutic options remain highly imperfect.”

Lehéricy adds, “These initial results obtained in patients with Parkinson’s syndromes monitored prospectively confirm the value of these biomarkers for differentiating tremor etiologies. In the long term, this could lead to improved management of such patients, particularly when symptoms are equivocal.”

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