Parkinson’s disease is on your skin

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In a new study, researchers found it is possible to identify Parkinson’s based on compounds found on the surface of the skin.

They developed a technique that works by analyzing compounds found in sebum—the oily substance that coats and protects the skin—and identifying changes in people with Parkinson’s Disease.

The findings offer hope that a pioneering new test could be developed to diagnose the degenerative condition through a simple and painless skin swab.

The research was conducted by a team at The University of Manchester and elsewhere.

Sebum is rich in lipid-like molecules and is one of the lesser-studied biological fluids in the diagnosis of the condition.

People with Parkinson’s may produce more sebum than normal—a condition known as seborrhoea.

In the study, the team examined 500 people with and without Parkinson’s. Samples of sebum were taken from their upper backs for analysis.

About 10 chemical compounds in sebum were identified which are elevated or reduced in people with Parkinson’s. This allows scientists to distinguish people with Parkinson’s with 85 percent accuracy.

The team confirmed that the volatile compounds on the skin can be used to diagnose the condition, increasing the number of people sampled and including participants from the Netherlands, as well as the UK.

Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, the team found the complex chemical signature in sebum of people with Parkinson’s and show subtle but fundamental changes as the condition progresses.

Detailed analysis showed changes in people with Parkinson’s in lipid (fat) processing and mitochondria.

Problems with mitochondria—the tiny energy-producing batteries that power cells—are one of the hallmarks of Parkinson’s.

These findings mean this ‘world first’ testing strategy is not only useful in diagnosing Parkinson’s but also in monitoring the development of the condition.

The skin swab could provide an incredibly important new tool in clinical trials helping researchers measure whether new, experimental treatments are able to slow, stop or reverse the progression of Parkinson’s.

The team says the results could lead to a definitive test to diagnose Parkinson’s accurately, speedily and cost-effectively.

One author of the study is Professor Perdita Barran.

The study is published in ACS Central Science and Nature Communications.

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