Penn's Leslie M. Shaw, PhD, and Institute on Aging director John Q. Trojanowski, PhD, lead the Bioanalytics Core of the Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), an international clinical study. In 2013, PPMI reported their first results of the analysis of spinal fluid collected from a sample of 102 patients, consisting of both early Parkinson's patients and healthy control subjects. They found that spinal fluid of early patients had lower levels of amyloid beta, tau, and alpha synuclein proteins. The study also identified correlations between the levels of particular proteins and specific Parkinson's impairments.
Another study, a collaboration of Penn researchers with Emory University and Washington University in St. Louis, as well as the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), found that a group of Alzheimer's disease biomarkers could be isolated in blood plasma. This is a major step in the effort to develop a blood test for Alzheimer's disease, where diagnostic research efforts have generally relied on spinal fluid tests and radiological exams. These newer tests can detect various levels of proteins implicated in the Alzheimer's disease process, such as amyloid-beta and tau proteins. In this study, researchers found that the levels or amounts of four different biomarkers detected in blood plasma were different in people with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's, when compared to healthy controls.