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Woman who smelled Parkinson’s on husband helped scientists develop early detection test



  • Twelve years after Joy Milne detected a sudden change in her husband’s odor, he became diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
  • The couple reached out to researchers to find out if there was a connection.
  • A research team has since developed a simple swab test that can detect Parkinson’s even before its symptoms manifest.

A woman whose sensitive nose sensed changes in body odor helped scientists develop a test for Parkinson’s disease.

Joy Milne from Scotland has known herself to have a supersensitive sense of smell. Over 40 years ago, she sensed that her husband Les, who was 33 years old at the time, had a sudden change in his natural odor. When Les was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in an already progressive state 12 years later, Joy wondered if the disease was the cause of the odor change.

Les, who was also a doctor, made inquiries about a possible connection in 2012. They met with a professor at the University of Edinburgh who formed a team to test Joy’s sense of smell.

The team worked on the theory that Parkinson’s damaged the skin oil known as sebum. Joy smelled the shirts of those diagnosed with Parkinson’s and those who weren’t. She correctly identified the shirts of Parkinson’s patients. Her one “incorrect” guess was when she smelled a shirt of a participant who wasn’t diagnosed with Parkinson’s yet — until 8 months later when they received a formal diagnosis.

Thanks to Joy’s sense of smell, a fast test for Parkinson’s has been developed. The test only involves scraping a cotton ball over the back of the neck.

The importance of early diagnosis

Parkinson’s is a disease that causes a progressive decline in parts of the brain linked to motor function.

There are currently no known cures for Parkinson’s, but it can be detected long before any symptoms manifest. And like most progressive diseases, early detection can help significantly.

“A confirmatory diagnostic would allow them to get the right treatment and get the drugs that will help to alleviate their symptoms,” said Perdita Barran, a professor at the University of Manchester.

In 2019, Barran and her team announced that they have identified molecules linked to the disease found in skin swabs used in a new potential test. When the molecules of sebum are studied via mass-spectrometry, it can show a positive result for Parkinson’s, which could then refer the patient to a neurologist for a more in-depth test.

They are now determining if hospital laboratories can replicate what they’ve done in a research lab.

Joy reiterated the importance of an early diagnosis. She told The Guardian, “The same as cancer and diabetes, earlier diagnosis means far more efficient treatment and a better lifestyle for people.”

An early diagnosis can also prompt patients to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and it has been proven time and time again that regular exercise and a healthier diet can make all the difference.


Source: Good News Network

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