FDA Approves Scan That Diagnosis Parkinson's

DaTscan imaging tool helps diagnose Parkinsons disease patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Potential Parkinson's disease patients now have an easier tool to aid with diagnosis. Called DaTscan, it marks the first diagnostic imaging tool approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The imaging tool helps assess movement disorders including Parkinson's. It marks the first test to help identify the disease. Previously, clinical exams were used to make a diagnosis, but they can be inconclusive or inaccurate, especially during the early stages of the disease.

"Ask about the SPECT scan in diagnosing Parkinson's."

Dr. Tanya Simuni, a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and director of Northwestern’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center, noted that the scan alone cannot diagnose Parkinson's. However, it pinpoints patients with a loss of dopamine, the main chemical responsible for the symptoms.

Dr. Simuni called the imaging tool an important step in being able to identify and treat movement disorders, and to better understand such diseases.

A patient is injected with a contrast agent before undergoing a single-photon emission computer tomography (SPECT) scan. DaTscan detects the presence of dopamine transporters in the brain through visual evidence, identifying patients with very low dopamine levels.

Dopamine neurons are illuminated on the scan. Scans that have more light areas show higher numbers of healthy dopamine brain cells. Dopamine areas that remain dark could indicate Parkinson's disease or another movement disorder.

Dr. Simuni said the tool will help diagnose patients sooner and begin treatment quicker. She said it can lead to better long term outcomes and an improved quality of life.

She said all patients may not need to confirm their diagnosis through the tool, but it is especially valuable for those with uncertain syndromes or those who have not responded to treatment.

The imaging device also is expected to be helpful to doctors and researchers in understanding how Parkinson's progresses by viewing changes in brain chemistry over time.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital is one of 14 U.S. facilities participating in a clinical trial of the device.

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Review Date: 
August 28, 2011
Last Updated:
August 30, 2011