A woman can smell Parkinson’s disease with incredible accuracy, and is now helping scientists to develop a test to diagnose it.
Joy Milne is a retired nurse from the Scottish town of Perth. She developed the ability to detect Parkinson’s after ‘sniffing’ the disease on her husband 12 years before he was officially diagnosed.
“He had this musty rather unpleasant smell especially round his shoulders and the back of his neck and his skin had definitely changed,” she said.
Joy wasn’t aware that the odour she was smelling was Parkinson’s disease. She only linked the smell to the condition after her husband’s diagnosis, when the pair visited a Parkinson’s UK support group. Joy detected the same scent amongst the people there, who had the same distinctive smell.
After hearing about Joy’s extraordinary ability, scientists were inspired to develop a swab that could be used to diagnose the disease. The team, from Manchester University, developed the skin swab test, which analyses sebum from the skin on a patient’s back.
Patients with Parkinson’s were tested, as well as a healthy control group. The test had an amazing 95% accuracy in test conditions. In the sebum samples, the scientists found 4000 compounds, of which 500 were different between those with Parkinson’s and those in the control group.
There isn’t currently a chemical test for Parkinson’s, with thousands of people on the waiting list for a neurological consultation to be diagnosed.
Professor Perdita Barran, who led the research, says that these tests could be used in GP’s surgeries in the future, and diagnose people in as little as three minutes.
“At the moment we have developed it in a research lab and we are now working with colleagues in hospital analytical labs to transfer our test to them so that it can work within an NHS environment,” she said.
“We are hoping within two years to be able to start to test people in the Manchester area.”