Can Scientists Predict or Prevent Parkinson's Disease?

In most cases, there is no way to predict or prevent sporadic PD. However, researchers are looking for a biomarker — a biochemical abnormality that all patients with PD might share — that could be picked up by screening techniques or by a simple chemical test given to people who do not have any parkinsonian symptoms.  This could help doctors identify people at risk of the disease.  It also might allow them to find treatments that will s the disease process in the early stages.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scanning may lead to important advances in our knowledge about PD. PET scans of the brain produce pictures of chemical changes as they occur. Using PET, research scientists can study the brain's dopamine receptors (the sites on nerve cells that bind with dopamine) to determine if the loss of dopamine activity follows or precedes degeneration of the neurons that make this chemical. This information could help scientists better understand the disease process and may potentially lead to improved treatments.

In rare cases, where people have a clearly inherited form of PD, researchers can test for known gene mutations as a way of determining an individual's risk of the disease.  However, this genetic testing can have far-reaching implications and people should carefully consider whether they want to know the results of such tests.  Genetic testing is currently available only as a part of research studies.