A nose for diagnosis: improving the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease

Summary: Researchers have found that personal smells can change in people with Parkinson’s disease. Based on this, they identified specific markers of Parkinson’s disease in sebum, an oily substance secreted by the skin. They have developed a new non-invasive swab test that can identify Parkinson’s disease with 95% accuracy.

Source: University of Manchester

Parkinson’s disease is a complex disease to diagnose and relies on the ability of practitioners to recognize a myriad of different symptoms. Professor Perdita Barran and Joy Milne are working on ways to improve the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.

Joy Milne is a “super smeller”, she suffers from a rare disease called hyperosmia which gives her an extremely sensitive sense of smell. Throughout her life, she experienced the world differently from those with normal noses, so much so that when she became a nurse, she noticed that people with different diseases smelled different. She didn’t initially make the connection between smells and illnesses, but when her husband, Les, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD), that’s when it all came together. square.

“My husband’s smell changed around the age of 30, it went from a fairly classic musky man’s smell to a rather unpleasant musty smell,” she tells us. “He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s around 12 years later and it was when we attended a Parkinson’s support group that I realized everyone smelled the same.”

It was this unique ability that caught the attention of Perdita Barran, Professor of Mass Spectrometry at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester. “We realized that if Joy could sense Parkinson’s disease, there must be something unique going on in people with Parkinson’s disease (PwP), and so we set out to try to identify what created the smell.”

Identifying the smell of Parkinson’s

Perdita and Joy have worked closely together over the past few years to identify the particular molecules that give Parkinson’s disease its smell. Using mass spectrometry, a technique that measures the weight of molecules, they discovered that there are distinctive markers for Parkinson’s disease in sebum, an oily substance secreted by the skin.

This breakthrough led them to develop a non-invasive swab test that can, in conjunction with the onset of early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, identify Parkinson’s disease with around 95% accuracy.

What’s even more amazing is how quickly the test can return a result; approximately three minutes under laboratory conditions. A rapid test is a cheaper test, a key factor if it is to be rolled out in a clinical setting, but it would also help reduce patient wait times.

Currently in the UK, it can take several months to see a Parkinson’s specialist, which is the only way to receive an official diagnosis. But if the swab test could preselect those who need to be referred for an official diagnosis, the number of people on the waiting list would decrease, as would the wait time.

“At the moment, we mainly rely on neurological symptoms that have physical manifestations to diagnose Parkinson’s disease,” says Perdita. “These symptoms often only show up when the disease is already well advanced, which obviously limits our treatment options.”

“If we can use a chemical diagnostic test, such as the one we are working on, it could open up a whole new range of treatment options for patients, it could also help close the gender gap in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.”

The difficulty of diagnosis

Parkinson’s disease is difficult to diagnose due to the myriad of symptoms it can present with, and these symptoms can also vary widely from patient to patient. Additionally, many of the symptoms seen in Parkinson’s disease can be attributed to other conditions.

To address this issue, there needs to be greater awareness of symptoms and how they present in patients. But in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased demands on GPs, many patients are not getting the diagnosis they need.

Credit: University of Manchester

“Being a GP is difficult and you can’t know everything about everything, but when Parkinson’s disease affects around 1 in 500 people in the UK and has such a huge impact on a person’s life, the symptoms have to be identified quickly,” Joy said.

There are over 40 different symptoms for Parkinson’s disease, so to help healthcare professionals keep up to date, Joy, also a retired nurse, recently worked with Parkinson’s UK to develop an e-learning course for health and care workers.

“This course is for anyone providing care to someone, whether it’s a nurse or a family member. It’s there to guide them through all the information currently available, tailored to their current level of knowledge,” says Joy. But of course resources are only useful if they are known and used.

Raising awareness

See also

Joy’s mission is to educate health professionals about the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, but also people living with the disease. Naturally, her extraordinary gift, along with Perdita’s remarkable research, attracted a lot of media attention.

“This media interest has been incredible in raising the profile of the disease and its symptoms,” says Joy, “I’m so glad we’re starting to come into the public consciousness and people are becoming more and more aware of their own symptoms, to better communicate with health professionals, and health professionals to better understand, recognize and diagnose them.

This breakthrough led them to develop a non-invasive swab test that can, in conjunction with the onset of early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, identify Parkinson’s disease with around 95% accuracy. Image is in public domain

Alongside her work with Parkinson’s UK, she also works with the PD Avengers, a global network of people on a mission to change the way Parkinson’s is diagnosed and treated, and the Women in PD group which deals with how Parkinson’s disease in women may differ from Parkinson’s disease. at men’s.

What the future holds

The future is looking brighter for PwP, advances in diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and our general knowledge and understanding of disease are producing better ways to treat and manage symptoms.

The diagnostic test will be a game-changer if rolled out in hospitals and other primary care settings, not only reducing wait times but also providing more accurate and faster diagnosis. This is particularly important for women and young people.

Awareness continues to grow around the disease, helping to lessen the stigma attached to it, which in turn could help reduce some of the mental health issues that accompany the symptoms. And other research into the causes of Parkinson’s disease, as well as pharmaceutical and lifestyle advances, are helping people with the disease lead more normal lives.

About this Parkinson’s disease research news

Author: Press office
Source: University of Manchester
Contact: Press Office – University of Manchester
Image: Image is in public domain