Identifying Parkinson’s based on compounds found on the surface of skin may be possible, and offer hope that a new test could be developed to diagnose the condition through a skin swab, according to researchers from the University of Manchester.

The technique works by analyzing compounds found in sebum — an oily substance rich in lipid-like molecules that coats and protects the skin — and identifies changes in people with Parkinson’s disease.

People with Parkinson’s may produce more sebum than normal — a condition known as seborrhoea.

The research was funded by charities Parkinson’s UK and the Michael J. Fox Foundation as well as The University of Manchester Innovation Factory.

The work was originally funded following an observation by Joy Milne, whose husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at the age of 45. Working with Dr Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh, Joy demonstrated the ability to distinguish a distinctive Parkinson’s odor in individuals using her sense of smell, even before symptoms emerge in those affected, a media release from University of Manchester explains.

Parkinson’s Smell Test

The team, led by Professor Perdita Barran, The University of Manchester, and the clinical lead Professor Monty Silverdale at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, recruited 500 people with and without Parkinson’s. Samples of sebum were taken from their upper backs for analysis. Using different mass spectrometry methods, 10 chemical compounds in sebum were identified which are elevated or reduced in people with Parkinson’s. This allows scientists to distinguish people with Parkinson’s with 85% accuracy.

In their study, published recently in Nature Communications, the team used high resolution mass spectrometry to profile the complex chemical signature in sebum of people with Parkinson’s and show subtle but fundamental changes as the condition progresses. Detailed analysis showed changes in people with Parkinson’s in lipid (fat) processing and mitochondria. Problems with mitochondria — the tiny energy-producing batteries that power cells — are one of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s.

Sebum-Based Biomarkers

The study unveiled novel diagnostic sebum-based biomarkers for Parkinson’s, provides insight into understanding of how the condition develops, and links lipid dysregulation to altered mitochondrial function.

These results could lead to a definitive test to diagnose Parkinson’s accurately, speedily and cost-effectively. The team is now seeking funding to further develop the test and explore the potential for using the test to “stratify” patients, the release continues.

“We believe that our results are an extremely encouraging step towards tests that could be used to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s. Not only is the test quick, simple and painless but it should also be extremely cost-effective because it uses existing technology that is already widely available.

“We are now looking to take our findings forward to refine the test to improve accuracy even further and to take steps toward making this a test that can be used in the NHS and to develop more precise diagnostics and better treatment for this debilitating condition.”

— Professor Perdita Barran, Professor of Mass Spectrometry at The University of Manchester

[Source(s): University of Manchester, Science Daily]

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