Breathalyser detects Parkinson’s with 81% accuracy in at-risk people

Breathalyser detects Parkinson’s disease with more than 80% accuracy in at-risk people: Early diagnosis helps to prevent devastating symptoms

  • Parkinson’s occurs when nerve cells that produce the chemical dopamine die
  • By the time of diagnosis, most of these nerve cells have already died
  • This limits patients’ treatment options and causes their symptoms to worsen
  • Device is better than standard diagnosis smell test, which is 73% accurate
  • Parkinson’s affects one in 500 people in the UK and up to one million in the US

A breathalyser with more than 80 per cent accuracy could diagnose Parkinson’s disease in at-risk people before they develop symptoms, new research suggests.

Parkinson’s occurs when nerve cells that produce the chemical dopamine, which is responsible for co-ordinating movement, die.

By the time most patients are diagnosed, many of their nerve cells have already died, which limits their treatment options and causes symptoms, such as tremor and rigid muscles, to get worse.

The breathalyser detects Parkinson’s with 81 per cent accuracy in patients who have been diagnosed but not yet started treatment, an Israeli study found.

This accuracy is better than smell tests at 73 per cent and almost as good as ultrasound scans at 92 per cent, which are the standard diagnosis methods.

Parkinson’s affects around one in 500 people in the UK and up to one million in the US. 

A breathalyser with more than 80 per cent accuracy could diagnose Parkinson’s (stock)

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Obese people are nearly 20 per cent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, research suggested in June 2017.

Having an obese BMI throughout your life lowers your risk of developing the condition by 18 per cent, a study review found.

This may be be due to the weight disorder sharing genes with factors that protect against the Parkinson’s, according to researchers.

Yet, the researchers warn the health risks of carrying excessive weight will likely outweigh any reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s.

They said: ‘Although our results suggest that higher BMI is potentially protective against Parkinson’s, the negative health impacts of raising BMI are likely to be significant, and should be taken into account.’ 

The researchers, from University College London, analysed a study review that included 13,708 Parkinson’s patients and 95,282 healthy people. 

Professor David Dexter, deputy director of research at Parkinson’s UK told MailOnline: ‘This study provides a much more robust link between BMI and Parkinson’s than previous inconclusive research in this area.

‘Having said that, we also know that while the UK has the highest number of overweight people in Europe it does not have the lowest incidence of Parkinson’s.

‘This study looks very specifically at genetic factors which would make someone overweight over their whole lifetime, as opposed to a spike in weight gain or being obese due to over-eating.

‘Other recent studies have indicated that obesity can increase the risk of certain types of Parkinson’s, so additional research is needed to understand more fully how this connection works.’

How does the device work?  

The researchers, from the Israel Institute of Technology, developed a breathalyser with 40 sensors, which each had a chemical attached that can bind to certain molecules in the breath.

This binding changes the breathalyser’s ability to measure electric currents that pass through it.

When previously given to Parkinson’s patients and healthy volunteers, the breathalyser detected differences in the participants’ breaths.

How the research was carried out 

The researchers tested the breathalyser on the exhaled breath of 29 newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients who had not yet started medication for their condition.

These results were then compared to those of 19 healthy people of a similar age to the patients. 

Although the scientists claim more studies are required, they hope the breathalyser could offer at-risk people a small, portable way of assessing if they may have Parkinson’s without the need for highly trained specialists.

Arthritis and asthma medication reduces a person’s risk of Parkinson’s

This comes after research released last May suggested arthritis and asthma medication reduces a person’s risk of Parkinson’s disease by up to one-third and could pave the way for a new treatment.

People who take corticosteroids, which are commonly prescribed for asthma, psoriasis and ulcerative colitis, are 20 per cent less at risk of suffering tremors, a study found.

IMDH inhibitors, which are used to treat arthritis, Crohn’s and organ transplant rejection, reduce people’s risk of developing Parkinson’s by around a third, the research adds.

Lead author Dr Brad Racette, from the University of Washington, said: ‘We’ve found that taking certain classes of immunosuppressant drugs reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s.

‘Our next step is to conduct a study with people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s to see whether these drugs have the effect on the immune system we’d expect.’

Although unclear, Parkinson’s may be caused by an overactive immune system, which the drugs work to reduce. 

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