Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have identified a new way to detect Parkinson's disease in the early stages of illness.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain condition caused by the loss of nerve cells.

A test is being developed by the university researchers, which can detect a molecule linked to the condition in samples of spinal fluid collected from patients.

It will detect a protein molecule called alpha-synuclein, which forms sticky clumps known as Lewy bodies inside the brain cells of people with Parkinson’s and some types of dementia.

"We hope that with further refinement, our approach will help to improve diagnosis for Parkinson’s patients."

The test employs a highly sensitive technology that measures the stickiness of proteins.

University of Edinburgh National CJD research and surveillance unit official Dr Alison Green said: “We have already used this technique to develop an accurate test for Creutzfeldt Jacob Disease, another neurodegenerative condition.

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"We hope that with further refinement, our approach will help to improve diagnosis for Parkinson’s patients.”

Initially, the technique could accurately identify 19 out of 20 samples from patients with Parkinson’s disease, as well as three samples from people considered to be at risk from the condition.

There were no false positives in any of the 15 control samples from healthy people, according to the university.

Green further added: “We are also interested in whether the test could be used to identify people with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia in the early stages of their illness.

"These people could then be given the opportunity to take part in trials of new medicines that may slow, or stop, the progression of disease.”

The study was backed by funding from the Chief Scientists Office, Government of Scotland, and The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.