Approximately 10 million people worldwide suffer from Parkinson’s Disease (PD) which makes it the second-most common neurological disease, according to the CDC. Early detection is key with Parkinson’s. The sooner neuroprotective treatment begins after someone first develops the condition, the better the chances of preventing or slowing the loss of dopaminergic neurons: the structures in the brain that produce dopamine. In 2017, we wrote about work at RMIT University in Melbourne using drawings to attempt early Parkinson’s detection.

A recent clinical study at the Israel Institute of Technology and published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience is notable for two reasons. The IIT researchers employed a nanotube sensor array to detect volatile PD biomarkers in exhaled breath. According to the report, this trial also was the first in which researchers compared results from people with de novo (early-stage) Parkinson’s Disease with test samples from a control group. Earlier studies looked for volatile samples in treated and medicated patients only, with no control groups. Rather than looking for evidence in diagnosed PD patients, the IIT study compared attempted to go beyond description to detection and diagnosis. The group tested testing breath samples from 29 patients with Parkinson’s and 19 control subjects for sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy. When the researchers compared the study outcomes to results from midbrain ultrasound and smell detection (which are the current standard tests), the results confirmed that sensor array breath testing has strong potential to detect early-stage PD.

This controlled test is a first promising step to developing valid and reliable Parkinson’s Disease detection protocols. Nanoparticle biosensor technology developments may someday lead to comprehensive health assessment and disease detection devices or systems. The focus on Parkinson’s Disease and potentially Alzheimer’s Disease, the most common neurological disease, could mean much earlier intervention for patients with the conditions. The hope is that earlier detection would lead to significant delays in symptom and disease progression.