Scientific Advance: Diagnosing LBD in Living Persons

An LBD research advance by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is making headlines. Using a procedure called a lumbar puncture (or spinal tap), researchers diagnosed two Lewy body disorders with a high degree of accuracy – dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s disease.

Lewy bodies contain disease-causing clumps of a protein called alpha-synuclein. Until now, the only way to prove someone’s symptoms were caused by Lewy bodies was to do a brain autopsy after they died.

Over the past two years NIH researchers have adapted and refined tools to detect Lewy bodies in spinal fluid. In a recent study they report the test accurately detected 93% of Lewy body cases.  However, this study was relatively small and investigators are now studying this test in a larger group of people with Parkinson’s disease.   Additional efforts are also needed to compare test results in living people against autopsy findings.

While this study marks a major milestone in LBD research, more research is required to know if this spinal fluid test can be further developed for wide use in diagnosing Lewy body disorders.

The study, first published in Acta Neuropathologica Communications, was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorder Foundation, and the Shiley-Marcos Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of California, San Diego