Parkinson’s Disease May Leave Telltale Odor on Skin

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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Parkinson’s UK, the largest charity funder of Parkinson’s research in the U.K., recently launched a new research project that explores the possibility of using an individual’s skin odor to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Watch the video below to learn more about this new project from Parkinson’s UK’s director of research, Arthur Roach:

Scientists have reasons to believe patients with Parkinson’s disease undergo changes in the composition of the skin’s sebum, causing the oily substance to have a subtle, yet unique scent, only noticeable to individuals with a keen sense of smell. The idea was born when a Scottland-based “super-smeller” correctly identified which patients had Parkinson’s disease after just smelling the clothing they had slept in. In fact, she was able to detect the unique odor on people who have not yet developed the disease.

Researchers at Parkinson’s UK, lead by Professor Perdita Barran from the University of Manchester, decided to go with the idea and design a study to involve as many as 200 individuals who either had or did not have Parkinson’s disease. A non-invasive skin swab and short questionnaire will be obtained from these individuals, and the team will study the differences in the sebum’s chemical composition. Results will be anonymized before being sent to the Scottish super-smeller — and other scent experts — for confirmation.

Dr. Roach said: “It’s very early days in the research, but if it’s proved there is a unique odour associated with Parkinson’s, particularly early on in the condition, it could have a huge impact not just on early diagnosis, but it would also make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson’s, something no current drug can achieve.”

Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center reported nilotinib (Tasigna® by Novartis), a treatment for chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), successfully treated Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia patients in a Phase I trial. The complete results were presented during the annual meeting of the society of Neuroscience, Neuroscience 2015, held in Chicago on October 17.