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Breakthrough Method Diagnoses Parkinson’s from Skin Swabs in Three Minutes

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 08 Sep 2022
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Image: Parkinson’s breakthrough can diagnose disease from skin swabs in 3 minutes (Photo courtesy of University of Manchester)
Image: Parkinson’s breakthrough can diagnose disease from skin swabs in 3 minutes (Photo courtesy of University of Manchester)

Sebum is an oily secretion from sebaceous glands under the skin which are connected to the endocrine system. Now, scientists have found a new method to detect Parkinson’s disease by analyzing sebum with mass spectrometry. The scientists have found that sebum can be used as a diagnostic biofluid, which is rich in hydrophobic endogenous metabolites.

Researchers at The University of Manchester (Manchester, UK) used cotton swabs to sample people and identify the compounds present with mass spectrometry. The method developed involves paper spray ionization mass spectrometry combined with ion mobility separation and can be performed in as little as three minutes from swab to results. The sampling procedure they have developed is simple and non-invasive; sebum is collected in clinics from the upper back of patients and posted in the regular mail to the lab. The research team now sees this as a major step forward towards a clinical method for confirmatory diagnosis of Parkinson’s, for which to date there is no diagnostic test based on biomarkers. Their current and future focus is to translate these findings into a test of clinical utility. The new work also opens the door to possibly diagnosing other diseases through non-invasive sebum analysis.

Describing the new technique Dr. Depanjan Sarkar said: “The sebum is transferred to filter paper from sampling swab, and we then cut this to a triangle, add a drop of solvent, apply a voltage and this transfers compounds from the sebum into the mass spectrometer. When we do this, we find more than 4000 unique compounds of which 500 are different between people with PD compared to the control participants.”

“We are tremendously excited by these results which take us closer to making a diagnostic test for Parkinson's Disease that could be used in clinic,” said Professor Perdita Barran at The University of Manchester, who led the research.

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