Parkinson’s disease could soon be diagnosed in its early stages using special brain scans.

A condition that steadily worsens over time, Parkinson’s disease affects the brain and compromises a person’s ability to walk, hold items, or even perform menial tasks.

Unfortunately, it can take up to a year or more to diagnose this life-altering disease and even longer to assess just how well a person suffering from it will do over time with known treatments.

Parkinson’s is usually diagnosed using an MRI brain scan. But since the scan isn’t sensitive enough, it can leave out biological changes that affected the brain from the beginning.

A team of scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, have worked on a new and promising way to diagnose the disease. Dubbed quantitative MRI (qMRI), the scans are designed to look at a deep part of the brain called the striatum, which typically deteriorates as the disease progresses.

With their findings published in Science Advances, the team found that the qMRI analysis showed distinct changes in the tissue structure of the striatum. Before qMRI, this was only possible to see after the patient had already died.

"What we have discovered is the tip of the iceberg. When you don't have measurements, you don't know what is normal and what is abnormal brain structure, and what is changing during the progress of the disease,” explained researcher Aviv Mezer, a professor at Hebrew University.

According to Mezer, this breakthrough is only the start since the team hopes to further explore what qMRI can do for Parkinson’s disease. The team also hopes to use this new technique to examine other tiny changes in other regions of the brain. They also anticipate that the special brain scans will be adapted to clinical settings in three to five years.

Per the Parkinson’s Foundation, the disease currently affects almost 1 million people in the U.S. and over 10 million worldwide. Treatment usually includes medication, exercise, and physical therapy.