‘Smelling Parkinson’s’ research could make it quicker and easier to diagnose Parkinson’s

Scientists at the University of Manchester have developed a test which could help diagnose Parkinson’s in 3 minutes using a simple skin swab.

The test looks for changes in the sebum – the oily layer which protects the skin – using a technique known as mass spectrometry, which helps identify compounds based on their weight. 

This research was inspired by Joy Milne, who discovered she had the ability to ‘smell Parkinson’s’ following her husband’s diagnosis at the age of 45. Joy’s observation led to a Parkinson’s UK-funded study which suggested that there were chemical changes in the sebum between people with and without Parkinson’s. Read more about Joy and the study.

In this study, the team studied cotton swab samples from the back of the neck of 79 people with Parkinson’s and 71 people who didn’t have a Parkinson’s diagnosis. They found 500 compounds that were unique to people with Parkinson’s, which could be used to help diagnose the condition.

Dr Beckie Port, Head of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said: 

"Currently there is no definitive diagnostic test for Parkinson’s which can lead to misdiagnosis and delays in treatments. The prospect that there could be a way of diagnosing the condition that takes just a matter of minutes and does not need invasive tests or samples is very exciting. The tests may also allow us to monitor the progression of Parkinson's which means they could be used to support ongoing research into a cure, measuring the effectiveness of new treatments in trials.  


"So far the work has been carried out in the lab, comparing sebum samples from people who are known to have Parkinson's with those who do not. The next step will be developing it to be used in a clinical setting to see how it can potentially diagnose people with Parkinson’s, at what stage and to test the accuracy. That’s how we’ll know if we have a definitive diagnostic test."

Smelling Parkinson’s

Find out more about Joy Milne and smelling Parkinson’s on our blog.