Joy Milne, 72, was able to sniff out Parkinson’s in her husband 12 years before he was diagnosed, because the way he smelled changed. Scientists have developed a test for Parkinson’s disease thanks to a grandmother’s super sense of smell.
She has been a major asset to scientists, as a ‘super-smeller’, who can diagnose strangers who have the disease simply by sniffing T-shirts they have been wearing.
It was her incredible nose which discovered that the telltale scent of Parkinson’s comes most strongly not from sweaty armpits but from the back of people’s necks and between their shoulder blades.
This revealed that sebum – an oily substance secreted from pores in the skin – contained ten compounds linked to Parkinson’s.
Joy Milne, 72, was able to sniff out Parkinson’s in her husband 12 years before he was diagnosed, because the way he smelled changed. She is pictured above with late husband Les
Now, after further research, scientists have identified 500 such compounds including ‘fatty acids’ called triglycerides and diglycerides, and developed the first test for them. Costing less than £20, the test could be trialled in Greater Manchester within two years.
Researchers say Parkinson’s disease can be identified within three minutes after swabbing the back of someone’s neck. There had previously been no definitive test for the disease, with doctors instead basing a diagnosis on someone’s symptoms and medical history.
A better test and earlier diagnosis might help sufferers preserve the function of their brain cells, cutting down on jerky movements and slowing down the disease.
Research leader Professor Perdita Barran, from Manchester University, whose findings are reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, said: ‘If Joy didn’t exist, I don’t think any of this would have happened – not just because of her nose, but because of her persistence in thinking her ability could help people.
She has been a major asset to scientists, as a ‘super-smeller’, who can diagnose strangers who have the disease simply by sniffing T-shirts they have been wearing
Mrs Milne, a grandmother of seven from Perth in Scotland, noticed her husband Les (pictured) smelled ‘musky’ when he was 31
‘I was sceptical at first, but she has been proven right. We have now swabbed 2,000 people, and hope in the future GPs could use this test to confirm if someone might have Parkinson’s and fast-track them to specialists.’
Mrs Milne, a grandmother of seven from Perth in Scotland, noticed her husband Les smelled ‘musky’ when he was 31.
She first realised she could smell the illness in others when she attended a support group meeting with her husband, a former doctor who died in 2015.
The retired nurse helped to identify sebum as a major source of the Parkinson’s scent, and now scientists have published the results of testing this oily substance in 79 people with Parkinson’s compared with 71 healthy people.
Mrs Milne, who has hereditary hyperosmia – a heightened sensitivity to smells, said: ‘I promised my husband the night before he died that I would help with research on Parkinson’s until there is a test for this cruel disease. I feel lucky that I have this ability, to help people with early diagnosis.’