People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) emit a novel odor that can be detected months to years before the onset of symptoms. The molecules responsible for this characteristic scent are present in oily skin secretions and are recognized by sensors called odorant receptors found in the noses of mammals — including humans. Researchers at the City University of New York are building a platform that harnesses these odorant receptors to discriminate between the odors people with PD and healthy volunteers. This biological sensor could facilitate early diagnosis from skin-swab samples that can be collected quickly and easily.
Can we translate the power of smell into a biological sensor capable of early diagnoses of PD?
We will establish a simple strategy for sampling the oily secretions from individuals with PD and from healthy volunteers. We will develop methods for isolating the odor molecules from these samples and engineer biological sensors that respond to the signature scents present in the PD secretions. We will then refine our ability to distinguish between samples collected from people with PD versus healthy volunteers.
Impact on Diagnosis/Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease:
Currently there is no test that can diagnose PD prior to onset of symptoms. Research indicates that the change in an individual’s scent occurs before symptoms arise. Taking advantage of a biological ability to sniff out PD before disease onset may allow early medical intervention and delay disease progression.
Next Steps for Development:
In future experiments, we aim to develop a diagnostic tool that is reliable and easy to use. We would also like to determine whether this test can be used to predict disease stage and severity and to distinguish PD from other, similar neurodegenerative syndromes.