Resource | Mollie's Blog No 12
Meet the Scientists
The last two weeks feel like they have flown by – I have been busy repeating previous experiments to validate the results and strengthen my data. This means I have no new updates regarding my project. However, this week it was published in the media that an exciting new diagnostic test for Parkinson’s Disease is on the horizon so I thought it might be nice to write a small piece about this incredible development.
As you will know, to date, the diagnosis of PD has been challenging with no simple or specific test available to allow early identification of the disease. In turn, this brings more challenges in the treatment of the symptoms of PD as the patient’s disease can have progressed considerably before it is recognised. However, a new innovation could dramatically change the landscape of PD diagnosis, allowing conclusive, early detection of the disease.
It is likely that you have heard the story of Joy Milne, heralded as the ‘Woman that can smell Parkinson’s Disease’ (if you haven’t heard her story you can read a bit more about it here https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/23/820274501/her-incredible-sense-of-smell-is-helping-scientists-find-new-ways-to-diagnose-di ). Briefly, Joy is a ‘super-smeller’ from Perth (just down the road) and she noticed a change in her husband’s odour over a decade before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of 45. When she attended support groups she noticed this same odour on the other patients. After approaching a scientist at the University of Edinburgh it was confirmed that Joy was able to smell PD (even before clinical diagnosis) with 100% accuracy. The discovery of Joy’s remarkable ability has lead to further investigations by scientists from the University of Edinburgh and now the University of Manchester into what compounds could possibly be causing this distinct smell and how this could be used as an early diagnostic tool.
Studies have collected samples of sebum, a waxy fluid that is secreted by glands in the skin, and analysed the components using a technique called mass spectrometry (a technique that allows researchers to identify chemical components within samples.) Together with olfactory data gathered from Joy, they have been able to identify 10 volatile components within sebum that give rise to the distinct smell associated with PD patients.
From these results scientists have now developed an easy swab test that could be game changing in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. By collecting a sample of an individual’s sebum, researchers have been able to use mass spectrometry to identify its constituent components and correctly identify those with the disease 80% of the time. Professor Perdita Barran, leading the study by the University of Manchester, is strongly encouraged by their results and believes that they could be a big step closer to making this quick, simple and painless test a key diagnostic tool for the NHS. The group are now working to refine the test and increase its accuracy even further and are also investigating how they can adapt the test to monitor disease progression.
This is an exciting and significant advancement and may dramatically improve the lives for people with Parkinson’s with early diagnosis and intervention. The nature of this discovery is truly miraculous, and I find the story really awe inspiring. It is so incredible that so many world changing discoveries were made by mistake or were totally stumbled upon – Penicillin, X-rays, Velcro, Insulin and even Corn Flakes. So, watch this space.