WELLINGTON, Sept. 5 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand scientists claim to have made a breakthrough in identifying the early indicators of Parkinson's disease, enabling doctors to offer early treatment for the dementia caused by the neuro-degenerative illness.
University of Canterbury researchers said Wednesday they were the first scientists to use advanced neurological imaging to examine the brain while the patient was still alive to find cellular degeneration that was previously only detectable in an autopsy.
Parkinson's disease is the second most common degenerative disorder after Alzheimer's disease, leading to debilitating dementia that requires intensive care and attention for the sufferers.
"Our research group aims to use advanced neurological imaging to identify the subtle brain changes that occur prior to the cognitive symptoms of Parkinson's disease being identifiable clinically," said University of Canterbury doctoral student Nadia Borlase in a statement.
"We are focusing on the thalamus, a structure at the center of the brain as it is involved in all aspects of function except smell processing. The architecture of the thalamus is almost identical to that of the rest of the brain so we have used mathematical algorithms to segment it into pieces, each of which is thought to be responsible for a specific area of behavior."
To achieve the best result, the interventions had to be applied as early in disease course as possible, said Borlase who is working with the New Zealand Brain Research Institute and Canterbury Medical Research Foundation.
While Parkinson's disease had no cure, its motor and cognitive symptoms could be treated to significantly improve the patient's quality of life.
The research had the potential to enable early identification of those most at risk for dementia in order for treatment to be applied as early as possible.
It would also aid in potential treatments being able to be applied as early as possible.