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On the right scent to an early diagnosis

Ground-breaking research led by the University of Manchester could deliver an early diagnosis for people with Parkinson’s disease.

There is currently no definitive way of diagnosing Parkinson’s and no cure, leaving 7.5 million people worldwide struggling to walk, speak and sleep. But thanks to a new technique being developed at the university, we may soon be able to diagnose the disease through a test to detect a scent found in early-stage patients.

The researchers are currently undertaking investigations to identify an oily substance found in the skin, which they say emits the scent.

The new technique was inspired by the case of Les Milne, a Parkinson’s patient, whose wife Joy began to notice a change in her husband’s scent more than six years prior to his diagnosis. Joy recognised the same “woody, musky odour” on patients at a Parkinson’s UK awareness lecture many years later.

Professor Perdita Barran, who is leading the research team at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, says:

The combined analytical and human approach is helping us to grade identical samples that will hopefully pinpoint which molecular changes in the skin might be producing the unique odour found in Parkinson’s sufferers. This could enable early, non-invasive diagnosis – perhaps even before physical symptoms occur.

The research was made possible thanks to funding from the Michael J Fox Foundation and Parkinson’s UK, and gives hope to each person diagnosed with Parkinson’s every hour of the day in the UK.

The team believes that the early identification of Parkinson’s will allow them to test drugs with the potential to slow, or even stop, the disease.