MU welcomes expert in diagnosing Parkinson’s by scent

Prof Perdita Barran
Monday, May 13, 2024 - 09:00

Maynooth University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering is delighted to welcome Prof Perdita Barran, a member of the award-winning NoseToDiagnose research team that found that Parkinson’s disease (PD) could be identified from compounds on the surface of the skin.

Prof Barrran will discuss these findings at the 2024 Dean’s Lecture, a free public event taking place in Maynooth University’s TSI Building on Wednesday, 15 May.

Prof Barran, who is Chair of Mass Spectrometry in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Manchester, will speak about how the research team used the observations of Joy Milne, a retired nurse whose husband was diagnosed with PD at the age of 45, to develop a novel approach to early PD diagnosis.

Milne, from Perth in Scotland, has hereditary hyperosmia or a heightened sensitivity to smells and noticed that her late husband developed a different, more “musky” odour over a decade before he was diagnosed with PD. She worked with the team in Manchester, which used mass spectrometry to investigate the biomarkers of PD and found that the smell is strong on patients’ upper backs, where sebum, an oily substance produced by the skin, tends to amass.

“I am absolutely thrilled to be giving the Dean's Lecture at Maynooth University 2024,” Prof Barran said. “I will be talking about how we have taken the observation of Joy Milne, that people who have Parkinson’s Disease have a distinctive odour and launched a research programme called NoseToDiagnose.”

The resulting study, published in 2022 in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, found that there are specific lipids that are substantially more active in people suffering from the disease. With high resolution mass spectrometry, the team were able to profile the complex chemical signature in sebum of people with Parkinson’s and show subtle but fundamental changes as the condition progresses.

The research team went on to design a novel test to identify people with PD, a degenerative condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years, resulting in a range of physical and psychological symptoms. The test is simple and painless and involves using a cotton skin swab run along the back of the neck and can classify PD from sebum samples with more than 95% accuracy.

In her lecture, Prof Barran will discuss the methodological approach, recent findings and give a perspective on the use of sebum for non-invasive sampling. She will also refer to “other adventures with mass spectrometry in our labs in Manchester".

Prof Barran, who served as Chief Advisor to the UK Government on Mass Spectrometry as part of their Covid-19 pandemic response, has founded a spinout company SebOMIX to commercialise the new tests, which can detect biomarkers for numerous other diseases besides PD.

Event tickets are free but limited. Tickets can be booked by clicking here:

Event details:

• Date: Wednesday, 15 May 2024

• Time: 6.30pm – 8.30pm

• Location: TSI Building, North Campus, Maynooth University