UH Neurological Institute and CWRU studying if skin biopsies contain clues to diagnose Lewy body dementia in Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies

Thursday, July 01, 2021
CLEVELAND -- University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University are conducting a clinical research study to learn whether skin or tissue samples can be used to distinguish Lewy body dementia from other types of dementia, and from control participants who do not have dementia.
Lewy body dementia, which is comprised of Parkinson’s disease dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer's disease. Deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein develop in nerve cells in brain regions involved in thinking, memory and movement.
“Lewy body dementia is hard to distinguish from other forms of dementia,” said Steven Gunzler, MD, Principal Investigator of the clinical study at UH in Cleveland.  Dr. Gunzler is in the Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Center of the Neurological Institute at UH Cleveland Medical Center, and is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at CWRU School of Medicine.

“Various forms of dementia are particularly difficult to distinguish from one another, especially at early stages of the diseases,” said Dr. Gunzler. “We need better ways to diagnose these neurological conditions.”

Skin punch biopsy could be a possibly useful way to diagnose and even measure the severity of these conditions, as well as the severity of the memory and cognitive problems that they can cause.

The purpose of this research is to identify changes on skin punch biopsy, in which small pieces of skin removed and sent to the laboratory for examination, olfactory mucosa sampling, which is a sample taken with a swab or a brush from the back of the nose, and colon biopsy, a small sample of large intestine that can be taken during someone’s routine colonoscopy procedure. 

“We believe that these pathological changes in the peripheral tissues may lead to new ways to diagnose and measure these neurological conditions,” said Dr. Gunzler.

In addition to Lewy body dementia, other neurological conditions that can cause similar symptoms include Alzheimer’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and corticobasal degeneration (CBD). Researchers are seeking volunteers with Alzheimer’s disease, as well as control volunteers without neurological illness.
Participants would attend one study visit for a physical and neurological examination and assessment of their dementia symptoms. At a second visit, participants will provide small skin samples, a nasal swabbing, or both. Participants with Parkinson’s disease (with or without dementia), dementia with Lewy bodies, Alzheimer’s disease, or controls who already require a colonoscopy unrelated to this study may choose to have a small tissue sample taken from the colon during their standard of care colonoscopy.
Individuals between 40-89 years of age diagnosed with the neurological conditions above, and with no other progressive neurological condition and no deep brain stimulation surgery, can participate.
For more information, please contact Elisar Khawam, 216-844-2493, Elisar.Khawam@UHhospitals.org.
The study is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, one of the National Institutes of Health.

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