This Woman Can Smell Parkinson's & Researchers Want To Know How

Photo: Courtesy of the BBC.
It's easy for the early symptoms of Parkinson's disease to go unnoticed. But not much gets by Joy Milne, a 65-year-old Scottish woman who can accurately sniff out the disease before any symptoms have appeared — and her strange ability has now been verified by a lab test, reports The Washington Post.

Although 65-year-old Milne always knew she had a sensitive nose, she didn't know how sensitive it was until around the time her husband began to develop Parkinson's disease — she noticed he had a peculiar musky odor. She initially assumed it was just sweat, but at a meeting of a U.K.-based Parkinson's charity, Milne realized that many people had both the unique smell and Parkinson's.

After she mentioned this to several researchers, a team at the University of Edinburgh decided to put her to the test. First, they asked six people with Parkinson's and six without to wear T-shirts. Once the shirts were good and smelly, the team had Milne sniff them and try to figure out whether each shirt's wearer had Parkinson's.

At first, she got 11 out of 12 cases right, identifying one member of the non-Parkinson's control group as having the disease. Then, eight months later, that person was diagnosed with Parkinson's, too. That means Milne's nose was 100% accurate.

As one of the researchers explained to the BBC, our sense of smell is just the detection of particles that move through the air. And because skin changes are common in those with Parkinson's disease, the researchers suspect Milne is able to pick up on those changes through skin particles people shed. Other research has already identified a possible test that can measure the characteristic protein changes in Parkinson's through patients' skin.

Blown away by the results of Milne's test, the researchers have since started working on a larger study of the scent of 200 people with and without Parkinson's. The aim here is to find what, exactly, Milne is able to smell — something unique in the skin odor of those with Parkinson's — and use it to develop a test that can identify the disease early on. Although there's currently no cure for Parkinson's, this could help us develop new drugs that slow the disease's progression — or even stop it in its tracks.

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