Can you smell disease? A woman from Perth, Scotland claims she can smell Parkinson’s disease, and her eerie ability now has researchers looking into new ways that the degenerative disorder may be diagnosed.
Sixty-five year old Joy Milne has always had a sensitive sniffer, but the strange odor she smelled on her husband turned out to be common to another group of people – those who have, and even incredibly those who had yet to even be diagnosed – with Parkinson’s disease.
“I could always smell things other people couldn’t smell,” Milne said during a BBC broadcast on Oct. 22. “I recognized a change in his smell. It’s quite a musky smell.” Milne’s husband died of the disease in June, after a 20-year battle.
Milne, a former nurse, said she didn’t realize the smell was specific to Parkinson’s sufferers until she was in a room with a number of them. “We weren’t in contact with other people with Parkinson’s so I didn’t realize then that it was an individual smell to Parkinson’s,” she commented. “It wasn’t until we moved back to Scotland, to Perth, and we went to the Parkinson’s group and when I went into the room, I thought ‘Oh the smell is stronger.’”
Researchers at Edinburgh University were intrigued, and decided to test out Milne’s hypothesis – that Parkinson’s disease gives off a detectable odor.
Explains the Washington Post: “Researchers at the University of Edinburgh gave T-shirts to six people with Parkinson’s and six people without the disease. After the subjects wore the shirts, they were passed on to Milne, who then had to determine by smell whether each wearer had Parkinson’s.”
Milne was spot on, scoring 11 out of 12. And the one she got wrong? Milne insisted that her “diagnosis” was correct. Eight months later, she was proven true. The supposed healthy subject in the control group had in fact just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Milne’s ability is so keen, she said she can smell if the “disease was getting worse” or if a patient’s “medication was working – I could actually identify.”
Parkinson’s has no cure, but early diagnosis and medication can slow the disease significantly. Knowing that, and coupled with Milne’s sensory perceptions, scientists are developing a swab test to try.
Adds Sky News: “Experts think the disease may cause a change in the sebum, an oily substance that keeps the skin supple, resulting in a unique smell. The researchers will analyze skin swabs to identify the small molecules found in people with Parkinson’s, aimed at creating a diagnostic test.”