A Perth, Australia woman is believed to have the uncanny ability to smell Parkinson’s disease before symptoms appear.
Joy Milne, 65, says she’s always had a keen sense of smell. One day, she noticed a musky odor coming from her late husband, Les Milne, and assumed it was just sweat from working long hours, the Washington Post reports.
But Les was also growing more and more tired. Six years later, he learned he had Parkinson’s disease.
When the couple attended a charity event for Parkinson’s U.K., Joy noticed that other patients at the event shared her husband’s musky scent. She thought the odor might be tied to the condition.
“I could always smell things other people couldn’t smell,” Joy told BBC on Oct. 22.
She mentioned her theory to a few scientists, who decided to investigate.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh conducted an experiment in which six people with Parkinson’s and six people without the disease were given T-shirts. Joy would then determine by smell which of the subjects with T-shirts had Parkinson's.
Joy got 11 out of 12 correct. However, the one person she got wrong was diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight months later, making her assessment 100 percent accurate.
“That really impressed us,” Edinburgh University scientist Tilo Kunath told BBC. “We had to dig further into this phenomenon.”
Scientists at the universities of Manchester, London and Edinburgh are now looking to study the differences in skin chemicals of people with Parkinson’s and people without, study sponsor Parkinson’s U.K. announced this week.
The theory, as of now, is that people in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease experience changes in skin chemicals that produce a particular odor. Scientists hope that if they can identify the molecular signature responsible for this change in odor, diagnosing Parkinson’s could become as simple as swabbing a person’s forehead.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s at this time and the disease is considerably difficult to diagnose. Most doctors still rely on techniques used in the early 1800s to detect the disease.
Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson's U.K., said in the announcement that the research would not only have a “huge impact” on diagnostic procedures, but would also “make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson’s, something no current drug can achieve.”