One of the many myths associated with Parkinson’s is that we know what this disease is. After all, we have a name for it, we have millions of people around the world that have been diagnosed with it, and there are thousands of scientists around the world that have been studying it for decades. Surely, we must know what “it” is. Right?
We don’t. Despite billions of dollars and countless hours spent in labs around the world looking for it, there is still nothing in biology that we can point to and say that is Parkinson’s. This is a big problem and a key part of the reason why we still don’t have any therapies that can slow, let alone stop it from progressing. How do you stop what you cannot see or measure?
That is what biomarkers would allow us to do. A biomarker is a biological signal we can measure that tells us something meaningful about the state of a person’s disease, like blood-glucose levels in diabetics which completely revolutionized how we monitor and treat diabetes.
A big part of the reason why we have no way of measuring Parkinson’s diseases is because of how we have tried to look for it. All biomarker studies have been based on the existent clinical labels to guide the search for biological signals. That is the exact opposite of the approach other fields have taken, oncology, most notably. We have to start from measuring the biology without the classification biases imposed by the labels doctors generate at the bedside. Only then we will we find what we are looking for, one individual at a time.
– Benjamin Stecher