Simply put, Parkinson's results when there is impairment or failure of the nerve cells that use dopamine for the chemical messenger that passes excitation from one nerve cell to the next. This is called the dopamine pathway. It plays an important role in sensory organs, especially the nose. A portion of the brain, the substantia nigra, is important in coordination of movement. It is composed mostly of dopamine pathway nerve cells. Parkinson's is diagnosed by expert physicians who can evaluate the characteristic symptoms of stiffness and movement disorders. That means it is seldom diagnosed until there has been massive damage to the dopamine pathway. It has been estimated that by the time symptoms have developed, the substantia nigra may be 80% gone.

What we are trying to do:

We would like to be able to diagnose Parkinson's very early, before you can see it, before the dopamine pathway is damaged beyond redemption. There is a great search in progress to determine biomarkers for Parkinson's; chemicals that are present in Parkinson's patients, but are not present in other people, or chemicals that act differently if you have Parkinson's. Michael J Fox Foundation has found one such marker in spinal fluid. A protein we all have called alpha synuclein clumps up in people who have Parkinson's. We want to join in the search and hope to find a different marker in nasal secretions. Usually the first symptom of Parkinson's is impairment of the sense of smell. We hope to be able to develop an easy test like we all have been doing for Covid that will let a young person know when Parkinson's is first developing, and may also give a clue to the direct cause, so something can be done about it while there is time.

There is a recent trend in Parkinson's research circles to redefine Parkinson's as the syndrome of characteristic symptoms that responds well to treatment with oral dopamine preparations. This excludes about 15% of people who have the symptoms, and makes it look like treatments are more effective than they really are. We don't do that.