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Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine - Barts and The London

Improving Prediction of Parkinson’s Disease

A study led by researchers from the Wolfson Institute shows that including genetic markers in addition to well known risk factors improves tests to predict Parkinson’s disease.

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Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder worldwide. By the time it is diagnosed, the disease has caused permanent irreversible damage. Identifying individuals who are at risk, or detecting the disease earlier, is the best hope to prevent or develop effective treatments for Parkinson’s.


Using data from over 2000 patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s and half a million controls in the UK Biobank, the researchers first investigated the association of certain risk factors with Parkinson’s. Factors such as having a family history of the disease, not smoking, low alcohol consumption, depression, excessive daytime sleepiness, epilepsy, earlier menarche, and a family history of dementia had small individual associations with Parkinson’s. Genetic risk factors also contributed to risk of Parkinson’s and by combining genetic factors in a “Polygenic Risk Score” and the factors listed above, the ability to predict Parkinson’s improved by a small amount. The researchers went on to show that interactions between environmental and genetic risk factors may explain some more of the missing risk, and the effect of some risk factors may depend on genetic risk for Parkinson’s.

Corresponding author Dr Alastair Noyce of the Wolfson Institute’s Preventive Neurology Unit said: These results provide further evidence that we can identify a group at higher risk of Parkinson’s disease, who would be ideal candidates for neuroprotective drug trials or other prevention strategies. Our research takes a further step forward in thinking about the prevention of Parkinson’s disease and who are the best groups to target for prevention.

This research was supported by funding from the Barts Charity.

Benjamin M Jacobs, Daniel Belete, Jonathan P Bestwick, Cornelis Blauwendraat, Sara Bandres-Ciga, Karl Heilbron, Ruth Dobson, The International Parkinson’s Disease Genomics Consortium (IPDGC), Mike A Nalls, Andrew B Singleton, John Hardy, Gavin Giovannoni, Andrew J Lees, Anette Schrag, Alastair J Noyce. Parkinson’s disease determinants, prediction and gene-environment interactions in the UK Biobank.  Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, 2020; 91:1046-1054.