The smell of Parkinson’s linked to skin molecules

The smell of Parkinson’s linked to skin molecules

 

Wednesday, 20 March, 2019

Dr Tilo Kunath (MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine) has worked with colleagues at the University of Manchester and Joy Milne, someone who can smell Parkinson’s, to identify molecules on the skin that change in people with the condition.

Joy Milne, a former nurse who noticed a change in her husband's smell before he developed symptoms of Parkinson's, has been working with Tilo and Prof Perdita Barran at the University of Manchester to try and identify the cause of the odour change.  Previously they had undertaken a blinded experiment to test Joy's odour detecting skills and found she was 100% accurate.  This follow-up study, using mass spectrometry, found that a number of compounds, particularly hippuric acid, eicosane, and octadecanal, were found in higher than usual concentrations on the skin of Parkinson's patients.  They are contained in sebum - the oily secretion that coats everybody's skin, but which is often produced in greater quantity by people with Parkinson's, making them more likely to develop a skin complaint called seborrheic dermatitis.

This finding paves the way for the developemnt of a simple skin swab test which could be used to diagnose Parkinson's, a degenerative condition that affects 1 in 100 people over the age of 60.