‘Curse and benefit’: Meet woman who can smell Parkinson’s disease

Joy Milne, who can ‘smell’ Parkinson’s disease, is helping scientists develop a test to detect the disease. —npr.org

A Scottish woman who can ‘smell’ Parkinson’s disease is helping scientists develop a test to detect the disease.

Joy Milne, 72, has a keen sense of smell. Twelve years before her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she smelled a difference in his scent. At the time, he was 33 and died at the age of 65.

Milne said she smelled a “musky” aroma that was different from her usual scent.

Scientists were excited when they discovered it observations and decided to use his senses to conduct further research. They wanted to see if his sense of smell could actually identify the neurological condition.

Researchers at the University of Manchester have finally made a breakthrough after developing a test that can tell if a person has Parkinson’s disease by simply running a cotton swab down the back of their neck.

The study is still in its early stages but scientists are curious about the prospects of the test. Currently, there is no test for the condition and diagnosis is based on symptoms alone.

If successful, the skin swab test may lead to a diagnostic.

Milne believes the disease should be diagnosed as early as possible, like cancer and diabetes, for “much more effective treatment and a better way of life”.

She said exercise and diet make a difference.

Milne’s husband was a doctor who was “determined” to find an association between the smell and Parkinson’s disease. In 2012, the couple contacted Dr Tilo Kunath from the University of Edinburgh, reported The Independent.

As a result, Kunath and a teacher, Perdita Barran, teamed up to take over the project and study Milne’s olfactory senses.

As part of the research, Milne was asked to smell clothes belonging to patients with Parkinson’s disease and those without. She correctly identified the shirts worn by people with the disease.

However, she also identified a shirt as having the disease while the individual did not. Amazingly, the person was diagnosed with it eight months later.

The research results were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Certain chemicals are thought to be present only in patients with Parkinson’s disease and they appear in sebum – the oil released by the body.

While Milne has helped scientists a lot and is now working with other teams to see if she can detect other diseases, she says for her it’s both a curse and a boon.

Describing her routine life, she said she couldn’t go to supermarkets because of people’s perfumes.

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