In two recent reports , Parkinson’s researchers describe findings that may lead to new ways of detecting early signs of the disease and a potential new treatment.
In the first case, researchers in Scotland are looking at the possibility that even before a patient begins to have obvious symptoms of the disease, their body chemistry may change in a way that can be detected through a difference in how they smell.
While it’s been long known that a loss of smell is a common symptom for those with Parkinson’s, being able to detect whether someone has the disease through odor is a new idea.
The study was prompted after the wife of a Parkinson’s patient in Scotland, Joy Milne, noticed that people with Parkinson’s had the same distinct smell she’d noticed in her husband before he began to show signs of the disease.
She mentioned this to a scientist in passing who was intrigued enough to test her in a study at the Edinburgh University.
There and at the University of Manchester, researchers found that Joy could indeed discern between people with Parkinson’s and those without the disease by smelling t-shirts they’d worn. In fact she was even able to detect the disease in one of the “control” subjects eight months before they were diagnosed. Now they are working on studying why that might be.
Researchers believe that changes in the skin in the early stages of Parkinson’s produces a distinct smell that could be used for early detection. They hope to find the molecular signature responsible and then develop a simple test to detect it. This could help in early detection of the disease.
23andMe Parkinson’s research community manager, Paul Cannon, said that this is a potentially important finding since
reliable early detection of the disease is key both to improve the management of patients as well as enable the clinical development of treatments that slow the progression of the disease.
In a second intriguing study, researchers at Georgetown University found a potentially effective new treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms using a drug approved for those with leukemia.
In a small study designed to look at how well Parkinson’s patients tolerated the drug, nilotinib, researchers found that low doses of the drug resulted in dramatic improvements in cognition, motor function and even some non-motor function symptoms like constipation. Researchers hypothesize that low doses of nilotinib may help reduce the build up of misfolded proteins in the brain.
Paul noted that these findings are intriguing and encouraging, but that this was a small uncontrolled study and much more research is needed to know how important a treatment this will ultimately be.
To learn more about 23andMe’s Parkinson’s Research Community go here.