Accurate Parkinson’s Disease Detection with Skin Swabs

Accurate Parkinson’s Disease Detection with Skin Swabs

Parkinson’s Disease was found to leave traces at the surface of the skin. The findings might open a new path to diagnosing the degenerative Disease using a painless and accessible method- the skin swab.

Parkinson’s Disease inflicts changes at the sebum’s level- the oily barrier that protects the skin from nocive environmental factors. Sebum is a substance that contains a rich quantity of lipid-like molecules; no one could think the disease controls the amount of fluids at the surface of the skin. Consequently, the condition called seborrhoea triggers the production of extra sebum on the skin.

All of this started when Joy Milne, whose husband has Parkinson since the age of 45, displayed an incredible smell sense that could track Parkinson’s patients, even before the symptoms showed up. She started to work with Dr. Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh. The unusual skill has been funded by The University of Manchester Innovation Factory and by charities Parkinson’s UK and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Better Accuracy than Most Tests

The experiment began with 500 volunteers. They were recruited by the researchers’ team, conducted by Professor Perdita Barran, The University of Manchester, and the clinical lead Professor Monty Silverdale Salford Royal Foundation Trust. Only some of the participants had been diagnosed with the disease, and the scientists had to find out which one of them by collecting sebum samples from their upper back. The researchers noticed, using mass spectrometry methods, that people with Parkinson’s showed abnormal activity of 10 chemical compounds. The breakthrough was able to spot the people with Parkinson’s in the volunteer crowd in 85% of cases.

Moreover, they recruited more volunteers from Netherlands and UK to outline how the volatile compounds at the skin surface signal Parkinson’s disease evidence. The findings appeared in ACS Central Science.

The disease’s progression could also be recorded at the skin level through subtle yet essential alterations in the sebum chemical signature. The report indicated that the main compounds that suffer modification due to Parkinson’s are mitochondria and lipids processing. The issues concerning mitochondria, the “tiny energy-producing batteries” that provide energy to cells, are emblematic of the disease. The study outcomes appeared today in Nature Communications.
The pioneering new test cannot only diagnose the degenerative condition but also follow the progress path. Using a simple skin swab, the researchers uncovered a new perspective on how the disease can be slowed or reversed.

The study connected two surprising aspects of the disease, such as lipid dysregulation to abnormal mitochondrial function.

The sebum-based biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease signaled a new fast, and accurate way to spot the disease without spending significant resources. The research now needs further funding to deliver the test and launch new possible applications – to ‘stratify’ patients.

In collaboration with the University of Manchester Innovation Factory, the team filed patents for their new technology and intends to form a spin-out company that brings the diagnostic technique to market. They struggle to create a COVID-19 test using a similar approach and diagnose other common conditions. They seek investors that could support their ideas to create over-the-counter diagnostic tools. Their progress and remarkable results were published in EClinical Medicine last week.

Professor Perdita Barran, Professor of Mass Spectrometry at The University of Manchester, said:

“We believe that our results are an extremely encouraging step towards tests that could be used to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson’s. 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. We are now looking to take our findings forwards to refine the test to improve accuracy even further and to take steps towards making this a test that can be used in the NHS and to develop more precise diagnostics and better treatment for this debilitating condition.”

Outrageous Misdiagnose Rates

Parkinson’s is not a condition that appears overnight. A GP can notice the disease’s progress after months or years when the symptoms start to be obvious. It is thought that the loss of dopamine-producing cells has the main culprit for Parkinson’s onset, and DaTscan involves this aspect in diagnosing. However, the loss of dopamine cells signals other neurological conditions as well.

The diagnostic is based entirely on the symptoms displayed outside a molecular test, such as balance issues, slowness, tremor, and stiffness. The downside is that the first subtle stages of Parkinson’s can easily be confused with other diseases.

In a recent survey of more than 2,000 people with Parkinson’s carried out by Parkinson’s UK, more than a quarter (26 per cent) reported they were misdiagnosed with a different condition before receiving the correct Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Amongst 2,000 patients with Parkinson s 26% were misdiagnosed in the first place, according to a recent survey conducted by Parkinson’s UK.

Professor David Dexter, Associate Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, stated:

“We are proud to have part-funded this groundbreaking research which marks a significant step towards developing a quick and accurate test that can not only revolutionise the way we diagnose Parkinson’s, but also allow us to monitor how this debilitating condition progresses.

He added that every hour, two more people in the UK receive the right diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and many of these people probably were told they suffer from other conditions. In pandemic times, people had to wait months to have a diagnose confirmed by a doctor. The swab test supports patients to access the right treatment earlier.

Daxa Kalayci (56-year-old) lives in Leicester and received the diagnose in September 2019. She was misdiagnosed many times over four years before being told she had the condition.

“I was misdiagnosed with anxiety, stress-related tremors and told that my problems stemmed from going through the menopause. I embarked on a 4-month cruise across the globe not knowing I had Parkinson’s. Just two weeks into the trip, my symptoms worsened and my dream holiday turned into a nightmare. Without confirmation that it was Parkinson’s, which I had suspected for a long time, I was left with unpleasant side-effects caused by different medications prescribed to manage my symptoms.


“Despite my diagnosis eventually being confirmed by a DaTscan, a quick and simple diagnostic test for Parkinson’s would have given me the chance to start my treatment earlier and enjoy life a lot more. But instead, I lost so many years not being able to pursue a career as a paramedic or go back to Nursing.


Source: A Step Closer to a Skin Swab Test for Parkinson’s


Katherine is just getting her start as a journalist. She attended a technical school while still in high school where she learned a variety of skills, from photography to nutrition. Her enthusiasm for both natural and human sciences is real so she particularly enjoys covering topics on medicine and the environment.

One thought on “Accurate Parkinson’s Disease Detection with Skin Swabs

  1. After my PD diagnosis, i was on Carbidopa and Pramipexole for two (2) years, as the disease progressed my symptoms worsened, with my neurologist guidance i started on natural PD TREATMENT from Mayaka Natural Clinic (www. mayakanaturalclinic .com). The treatment was effectively for my Parkinson’s disease, most of the symptoms simply vanished within the first 3 months on the treatment, i feel better now than I have felt in years, i can feel my strength and the tremors are gone. My neurologist was very open when looking at alternative medicines and procedures


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