From the Doctor's Desk: I've Got a Gut Feeling About This

November 15, 2011

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By Danette Taylor, MD
Henry Ford Hospital, West Bloomfield, Michigan

At this point in time, patients are accustomed to having what doctors tell them about their conditions proven by an X-ray, blood test or other diagnostic study. Although there have been numerous advancements during the past several decades in our ability to identify illness, there are still a number of conditions which are diagnosed exclusively on the basis of physical examination. If you're the patient receiving one of these diagnoses, it can be frustrating and perhaps feel a bit arbitrary.

Parkinson's disease (PD) has fallen into this category since it was first described almost two hundred years ago, but this may soon be changing. To date, abnormalities within nerve cells which prove the diagnosis of PD were able to be identified only after a patient's death.

However, in a recent edition of Neurology® (Vol. 77(19), 8 November 2011, p 1761–1767), researchers have shown that the same abnormalities can be seen in nerve cells found in the intestines.

Perhaps more importantly, these cells can be obtained during a routine colonoscopy. In addition to identifying patients with PD, theses cells can identify patients who have a syndrome which mimics PD rather than PD itself—something that even the most seasoned neurologist can have difficulty with.

Although the ability to diagnosis PD with a simple colon biopsy isn't commercially available yet, this news is exciting for neurologists and other providers in the field of neurology. Not only will we be able to diagnose PD definitively but we may be able to make the diagnosis earlier, which will pave the way for better understanding of this illness and—ultimately— better treatment options for patients.

Learn More about PD