Galway researchers make healthcare breakthroughs with biomarkers research

21 Dec 2022

Image: © Artur Wnorowski/

Two separate teams of University of Galway researchers found that certain biomarkers can indicate Parkinson’s disease and the likelihood of breast cancer recurrence.

Researchers at University of Galway have identified a set of biomarkers in people’s blood that can distinguish patients with Parkinson’s disease from those not affected.

The study was led by Prof Adrienne Gorman of University of Galway’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences and a paper has been published in the journal Molecular Neurobiology.

“This research brings us one step closer to improving Parkinson’s disease diagnosis,” said Gorman.

Gorman and her team collected blood from 29 people with Parkinson’s disease and blood from another 24 volunteers who did not have a diagnosis for Parkinson’s. They then measured the levels of different proteins in serum isolated from the blood.

The loss of motor function associated with Parkinson’s disease occurs due to the degeneration and death of nerves that control movement. When nerves start to die they send stress signals to the surrounding neurons and distal tissues by releasing stress-regulated proteins.

The Galway team looked for markers in the blood of the Parkinson’s patients that would indicate neuronal stress.

They found that four stress-regulated proteins enable medical professionals to distinguish Parkinson’s disease patients from those not affected by the disease: PDIA1, PDIA3, MANF and clusterin.

“The next step is to translate our findings to a clinical diagnostic test,” said Dr Shirin Moghaddam, co-author on the research paper. “This requires validation of the biomarker panel in further independent cohorts to evaluate the test sensitivity and specificity for diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.”

According to Dr Katarzyna Mnich, the first author on the paper, the development of a blood-based diagnostic test means patients could have a faster, cheaper and more accurate diagnosis. Faster diagnosis also means patients can start treatment sooner.

Breast cancer research

Also at University of Galway, another group of researchers recently made a biomarker discovery that could potentially have an impact on breast cancer patients.

A team from the university’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences found that biomarkers known as microRNAs can help predict which patients with breast cancer are likely to face a recurrence of the disease and death.

These researchers conducted a multi-centre trial in Ireland, which involved taking blood samples from 124 patients with breast cancer at five different stages during their cancer treatment. These patients’ outcomes were assessed almost nine years later, with the researchers discovering that patients with an increased expression of a certain type of mRNA, called miR-145, are unlikely to have a recurrence of breast cancer.

The study was led by Dr Matthew Davey, Prof Michael Kerin and Dr Nicola Miller. It was published in the journal of the American College of Surgeons.

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Blathnaid O’Dea is Careers reporter at Silicon Republic