A simple skin smear test could be used to help diagnose Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain condition, if UK scientists are to follow. According to a more recent study, it is possible to identify Parkinson’s disease based on the compounds found in the skin. Scientists at the University of Manchester have developed a technique that quickly detects tell-tale compounds in sebum, the oily substance that protects the skin, and identifies changes in people with the disease.
Currently, there is no cure or definitive test for Parkinson’s. Also, the diagnosis can take years.
Sebum, which is rich in lipid-like molecules, is one of the least studied biological fluids in the diagnosis of the disease. People with Parkinson’s tend to produce more sebum than normal, which is called seborrhea.
Researchers discovered this after a woman surprised doctors with her ability to detect Parkinson’s disease through smell. Retired nurse Joy Milne, 68, of Perth noticed the “musky” smell on her husband, Les, years before his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
The research team used a mass spectrometry machine to detect the compounds, and now they have data from 500 people, showing that the skin test can correctly distinguish those with Parkinson’s more than eight out of 10 times.
Research Professor Perdita Barran said: “We believe that our results are an extremely encouraging step towards tests that could be used to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s disease. Not only is the test quick, simple and painless, 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 further improve accuracy and take steps to make this a usable test in the NHS and develop more accurate diagnoses and better treatment for this debilitating condition.”
The research, funded by UK Parkinson charities and the Michael J Fox Foundation, as well as the University of Manchester Innovation Factory, analyzed samples taken from people’s upper backs.
The new study, published in Communications from nature, showed how the skin smear test was not only useful in diagnosing the condition, but also in monitoring the development of the condition with changes in lipid regulation in cells.