Super Smellers study
This study is investigating whether Parkinson’s disease can be diagnosed as a result of changes in the skin. It is looking for healthy volunteers who may be able to take part via Join Dementia Research.
Through outreach activities in the Parkinson’s disease community, a woman has been identified who claims to be able to detect a unique body odour from people with PD. This woman has an extremely sensitive sense of smell and from a series of questions and answers, she has made it clear that people with Parkinson’s disease do not simply have increased body odour, but different body odour to her nose.
Importantly, from her own experience she detected a change in body odour in a family member many years before the onset of motor symptoms, and the eventual diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
The lady in question has been tested on two occasions with samples from people with Parkinson’s Disease and people without. The samples were gauze swabs rubbed on the skin. The ‘expert smeller’ correctly identified the samples from people with Parkinson’s disease in 12/12 individuals from sniffing the swabs. The unique odour was easily detected in these swab samples by our expert smeller.
We caught up with the Chief Investigator of this study, Professor Perdita Barran of The University Of Manchester, to find out more.
What are the main aims of the study?
The aim of this research study is to investigate the chemicals known as metabolites found on the skin of people with Parkinson’s disease. A significant number of studies have found that people with Parkinson’s disease exhibit a number of benign symptoms years before the first signs of movement problems. The purpose of this study is to determine if we can identify changes in the skin of people with Parkinson’s disease that can be used for early diagnosis and provide a non-invasive method to follow progression.
The skin contains sebaceous glands which are glands that produce an oily substance. There is evidence that the oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands of people with Parkinson’s disease is altered, and we have identified and tested a woman that can detect Parkinson’s disease by body odour alone. We have analysed some of the skin swabs in a chemistry laboratory. Using a technique called ‘mass spectrometry’, the chemistry laboratory were able to look at all the chemicals in the gauze swab and show that there was a difference between Parkinson’s disease subjects and subjects without.
We hope that we will be able to develop a very simple test to diagnose Parkinson’s disease by looking at the chemicals present on the skin.
A researcher will arrange a one-off visit at the participant’s home or at the Hospital to obtain consent and complete an anonymous questionnaire. The researcher will help to swab two pieces of gauze over the back of the neck and shoulder blades of the participant to obtain a sebum sample which will be sent for analysis. The whole collection process will take less than 25 minutes.
What do you hope the outcomes to be?
This work aims to discover a distinctive pattern of biomarkers which can be obtained from swabbing skin that are indicative of onset of Parkinson’s disease. This could be translated into a non-invasive test to an individual that exhibits some of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such loss of smell, constipation, or REM sleep behaviour disorder.
Identification of biomarkers will not by themselves lead to a cure for Parkinson’s disease but early diagnosis can significantly improve patient outcome. In addition, knowledge of the biomarkers that are presented could in turn provide new ideas about the underlying causes of the disease, assist with stratification of the disease, and be used to report on the efficacy of treatment.
Where is the study based?
This is a multi-centered study with Sites across England and Scotland. However, for the initial recruitment pilot of Healthy Controls using the JDR service, volunteers will be from Greater Manchester only.
So far we have only tested samples from a small number of people. We now want to study a much larger number of people, including those with and without Parkinson’s disease. We also want to study Parkinson’s disease participants who are not yet on medication and Healthy Controls. We will be recruiting healthy volunteers through Join Dementia Research.
You can see if you are eligible for this study, as well as others around the nation, by logging into your Join Dementia Research account.
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