Scientists have been searching for ways to spot hard to diagnose brain conditions, for example Alzheimer's, for years. There are currently no definitive tests and people in early stages can be unaware for many years before developing noticeable symptoms. Unfortunately this means that doctors can't begin any kind of treatment until later in disease progression, after irreversible brain damage and mental decline has taken place. However, an early study has shown that the skin can present with the same abnormal proteins that accumulate in the brain tissue of sufferers.
Researchers of the University of San Luis Potosi in Mexico believe that skin is an optimal biomarker candidate for brain disorders - something that can be measured both reliably and accurately to determine the presence of a disease. Post-mortem studies of those with Parkinson's have shown that the same protein deposits that occur in the brain, also take place in the skin, and researchers at the University of San Luis Potosi have been testing to see whether this correlation is also observable when patients are alive.
A small skin biopsy was taken from behind the ear of 53 volunteer patients with a brain disorder, such as Alzheimer's, and 12 healthy volunteer control subjects. The scientists were particularly looking for the presence of tau and alpha-synuclein proteins. The study participants with both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's presented with raised levels of these proteins in their skin, when compared with the healthy controls and those patients suffering from other types of dementia.
These findings will be presented in more detail at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology but lead researcher Dr Rodriguez-Leyva was keen to emphasize that although this is a very exciting development, much additional work is needed in the area.