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2016 Biomarkers Across Neurodegenerative Diseases Grant (BAND)

Benchmark structural MRI marker(s) for Parkinsonian syndromes

Which specific features of MRI brain images can uniquely identify people who have early-stage Parkinson’s disease?

Guangwei Du, M.D., Ph.D.
The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine
Hershey, PA - United States


One of the major goals of current research in Parkinson’s and related diseases is the development of sensitive and reliable ways to diagnose the diseases in their earliest stages, when treatments are likely to be the most effective. In recent years, scientists have developed brain imaging methods that can be used to detect early-stage Parkinson’s disease and distinguish it from other brain diseases that have similar symptoms. These methods involve the use of structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which can measure changes in the shape and size of different brain regions.
For these MRI methods to be used routinely in medical clinics, physicians need a clear and simple set of criteria (benchmarks) that can indicate the presence or absence of Parkinson’s disease and differentiate Parkinson’s from other neurodegenerative diseases. To develop such criteria, scientists need to analyze MRI images from a large set of individuals known to meet other diagnostic criteria for Parkinson’s, as well as individuals known to have related conditions that could be confused with Parkinson’s.

Research Plan

Guangwei Du, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues have proposed to analyze MRI brain images from two existing, large databases of people known to have Parkinson’s or related neurodegenerative diseases. The researchers will analyze the images to identify which changes in brain shape and structure could be used as biomarkers to indicate the risk or presence of a disease. The goal of this work is to develop specific criteria that can be applied to brain images to accurately identify people who have early-stage Parkinson’s disease and differentiate it from other neurodegenerative diseases, even before it can be detected by other diagnostic methods.


This research may provide key information on the use of MRI imaging biomarkers as a tool to aid in the detection and diagnosis of people suspected of having early-stage Parkinson’ disease. The researchers will share their data and the methods they use to analyze the brain images with other researchers who can take advantage of these novel methods in their own studies. This approach could also help accelerate the identification of MRI biomarkers specific for other neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s.

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