Diagnosing Parkinson’s disease typically involves a complicated and lengthy process that relies on symptoms and careful examinations by physicians. A recent study, however, points towards a future where the disease could be diagnosed with a simple skin swab test.
Conducted by a research team from the University of Manchester (UM), the new study has found that a simple skin swab can gather chemical information that can be used to diagnose Parkinson’s patients.
The non-invasive approach focuses on collecting samples from the sebum, the oily layer on our skin. As it turns out, this substance contains numerous molecules of interest, and people with Parkinson’s typically produce higher amounts of it than those without.
As part of the study, the UM researchers recruited 500 participants, both with and without Parkinson’s, and collected sebum samples from their upper backs. The team then used mass spectrometry methods to analyze the chemical components, which revealed 10 chemicals that were either heightened or lowered in those with the disease. By using these biomarkers, the team managed to distinguish those with the disease from those without with an accuracy of 85 percent.
In a separate but related study, the researchers also used mass spectrometry to observe how the biomarkers changed over time. The findings showed that the chemical signatures changed as the disease progressed, with the main changes occurring in fat processing and in the mitochondria of the patients. As a result, the team is confident that the swab test could eventually be used to not only diagnose the disease, but also monitor how it progresses.
“We believe that our results are an extremely encouraging step towards tests that could be used to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s,” says UM professor Perdita Barran. “Not only is the test quick, simple and painless, but it should also be extremely cost-effective because it uses existing technology that is already widely available.”