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Smelling the disease – a potential new tool for Parkinson diagnosis

Six years prior to her husband diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, Joy Milne started to smell a unique odor from his body. Later on, she noticed, that this scent is shared by all the Parkinson patients in the Parkinson’s charity she volunteered in. When confronting the neuroscientists, she passed a blind test of 12 samples with 100% accuracy (one, actually was an early diagnosis of the disease). The origin of the smell may come from the sebaceous glands, which secrete an oily, waxy substance called sebum, and is concentrated around the back and T-zone area—the forehead, nose and chin, in Parkinson’s patients, a condition that neurologists largely ignored, as a classic sign of the disease. A second source of the smell could be the protein alpha-synuclein, that appears in the brains of those with Parkinson’s, which also accumulate on the skin. The third option relates to dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system, or a typical bacteria that colonizes in the skin of Parkinson’s patients. Mass spectrometry revealed more than 9000 different compounds that may be related to the unique scent. Prof. Hossam Haick from the Israeli Technion, Identified a unique breath signature of Parkinson’s patients, which also may be used for the diagnosis of the disease. Another potentially faster method for developing a diagnostic tool based on smell is training so-called sniffing dogs currently used for explosive detection. All these methods are very attractive as these are non-invasive and low cost test, for a disease with no accurate diagnosis yet.

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