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Skin odour could lead to early diagnosis of Parkinson's

Scientist using his sense of smell © Susan Chiang from iStockphoto

This week a new Parkinson's UK project has been launched to find out if our skin odour could hold the secret to diagnosing Parkinson's.

Funding pioneering studies like this has the potential to throw Parkinson's into a completely new light.

Director of research, Arthur Roach

Professor Perdita Barran, of the University of Manchester, aims to identify differences in chemicals present on the skin surface of people with Parkinson's.

Watch our video of Arthur Roach, our director of research talking about the new research:

Clues on the surface of our skin

Researchers believe that Parkinson's may cause changes in the sebum – an oily substance in the skin – of people with the condition that results in a unique and subtle odour on the skin only detectable by people with a keen sense of smell.

This study began after a 'super-smeller' from Scotland was able to identify people with Parkinson's from just the t-shirts they had slept in.

The super smeller was even able to detect smell changes in someone who had not yet developed the condition.

What the research team are doing

The team aim to recruit up to 200 people with and without Parkinson's to have a skin swab taken and fill in a brief questionnaire.

The samples will be analysed by Perdita and her team to look for differences in the amount and type of chemicals present.

The samples, which will be anonymised, will also be assessed by the original 'supersmeller' who was the inspiration for the project, as well as a team of other smell experts from the food and drink industry.

News coverage so far

Update 22 October: We've had lots of great coverage on this story across TV, radio and national press coverage in print and online.

Some of the coverage includes:

Pioneering research

The team aim to recruit up to 200 people with and without Parkinson's to have a skin swab taken and fill in a brief questionnaire.

Dr Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson's UK, which is funding the study, said:

"Funding pioneering studies like this has the potential to throw Parkinson's into a completely new light.

"It's very early days in the research, but if it's proved there is a unique odour associated with Parkinson's, particularly early on in the condition, it could have a huge impact.

"Not just on early diagnosis, but it would also make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson's, something no current drug can achieve."

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