MONDAY, Aug. 29, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Scientists appear to have moved a step closer to developing a test that can detect Parkinson's disease in the early stages.

The researchers developed a technique to identify a Parkinson's-associated molecule in spinal fluid samples from patients. In experiments, the technique accurately identified 19 of 20 samples from Parkinson's patients, plus three samples from people at risk for the disease, the study authors said.

The technique detects a protein molecule called alpha-synuclein, which forms sticky clumps—called Lewy bodies —inside the brain cells of people with Parkinson's and some types of dementia, according to the researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The scientists also tested the new technique on 15 healthy people to see if there were any false-positives. There were none. The new test didn't detect disease in any of the healthy people.

Further research is needed to confirm the accuracy of the technique. But the investigators believe it could one day help improve the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

"We have already used this technique to develop an accurate test for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, another neurodegenerative condition. We hope that with further refinement, our approach will help to improve diagnosis for Parkinson's patients," Alison Green, of the National CJD Research and Surveillance Unit at the University of Edinburgh, said in a university news release.

"We are also interested in whether it 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," Green said.

Parkinson's disease is a chronic movement disorder in which nerve cells in the brain malfunction and die. The cause is unknown and, currently, there is no cure. Nearly one million people in the United States are living with Parkinson's disease, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.

The new study was published Aug. 29 in the journal Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

More information

For more about Parkinson's, visit the Parkinson's Disease Foundation.