My PD Story

Rick van der Vliet headshot

Rick van der Vliet, PhD, MD

Accurately Tracking Parkinson’s Disease Progression

Rick van der Vliet, PhD, MD, of Erasmus University Medical Center, received a Parkinson’s Foundation George G. Kaufman Impact Award to study a new way to diagnose Parkinson’s disease in an early stage, initiate treatment earlier, and monitor disease progression.

Degeneration in the region in the brain called the substantia nigra is a key mechanism underlying progression of Parkinson’s, but it is hard to measure reliably. Substantia nigra degeneration starts years before a clinical diagnosis of Parkinson’s.

Dr. van der Vliet will focus on DNA fragments called small cell-free DNA fragments (cfDNA), developing a targeted test to measure them in blood samples. This will serve as a marker of substantia nigra degeneration. This study will then determine whether the test results reflect the progression of Parkinson’s.

“I think that a biomarker (an indicator of disease activity) for Parkinson's disease is essential for the development of new drugs,” said Dr. van der Vliet. “A biomarker can help select patients for therapy even before symptoms start and monitor treatment effects in clinical trials. We hope to develop this biomarker by measuring DNA circulating in the blood stream after being released from damaged brain areas.”

When asked about the impact of this grant on his research career, Dr. van der Vliet said, “As a starting scientist, it is definitely competitive to get your first funding for new research ideas. And without funding, it's difficult to get more convincing data to show your idea actually works. Receiving this grant therefore feels like an essential steppingstone towards the development of our biomarker for Parkinson's and other neurological diseases."

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