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.

Advertisement

More from Body

Brittany Mostiller still remembers the moment when she realized that she couldn’t afford an abortion. “I didn’t know anything about this Hyde Amendment ...
Earlier this year, Lena Dunham was hospitalized to treat a ruptured ovarian cyst, unintentionally shedding light on an often ignored area of women's health...
If your eyes tend to glaze over at first mention of the latest Health Hack That Will Change Your Life, we can’t really blame you. Although we are literally...
Pregnant women get a lot of advice about motherhood, even when they don't ask for it. And in the first episode of Expecting, from Refinery29's comedy ...
We're in plus-size pool party heaven
Summer is over (for real). So it's time to face the facts: You're going to get a cold. Actually, you're probably going to get colds — plural. The average ...
The pelvic exam — complete with the stirrups and the speculum — isn't anyone's favorite thing about having a vagina. But it's really important because it's...
(Paid Content) Stress sweat is different from regular sweat in that it feeds off bacteria and causes odor. Then you start to think about it — producing ...
A few years ago, two Michigan urologists noticed a curious pattern among their patients: Upon returning from a Disney World vacation, patients would ...
It shouldn't be this complicated, all this body stuff: size discrimination, weight bias, the multi-factioned movement fighting to reverse it. At its core ...
On principle, I am skeptical of any internet health recommendation that has the word “challenge” tacked on to the end of it. These wellness fads come and...
Although he had been dead for decades, Jim Morrison said something a few years ago that shocked people. He wasn’t speaking from beyond the grave, but in ...
In April, I ran a story called “The Medium-Sized Woman Problem.” The “problem,” of course, was not the women themselves, but the way in which we frame ...
Jill Krause writes about all things mom, parenting, and relationships at her blog, Baby Rabies, and she has some words of advice for the non-pregnant ...