A woman who can smell Parkinson’s inspired researchers to produce test for diagnosis

Diagnosis based on cotton swabs

Parkinson’s is the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world, and it can cause various symptoms, such as difficulty walking, speaking, and a tremor. Unfortunately, there isn’t an available cure yet, but some treatment methods help relieve the symptoms and maintain the quality of life.

There is no definitive method for diagnosing Parkinson’s disease, either. Therefore, diagnosis is based on a patient’s symptoms and medical history. The skin swab could be implemented to produce a quicker diagnosis if it is successful outside laboratory conditions.

“At the moment we have developed it in a research lab, and we are now working with colleagues in hospital analytical labs to transfer our test to them so that it can work within an NHS environment,” Barran told BBC. “We are hoping within two years to be able to start to test people in the Manchester area.”

The study was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, and identification of robust biomarkers to complement clinical diagnosis will accelerate treatment options. Here, we demonstrate the use of direct infusion of sebum from skin swabs using paper spray ionization coupled with ion mobility mass spectrometry (PS-IM-MS) to determine the regulation of molecular classes of lipids in sebum that are diagnostic of PD. A PS-IM-MS method for sebum samples that takes 3 min per swab was developed and optimized. The method was applied to skin swabs collected from 150 people and elucidates ∼4200 features from each subject, which were independently analyzed. The data included high molecular weight lipids (>600 Da) that differ significantly in the sebum of people with PD. Putative metabolite annotations of several lipid classes, predominantly triglycerides, and larger acyl glycerides, were obtained using accurate mass, tandem mass spectrometry, and collision cross-section measurements.

Leave a Comment