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HomeUKWoman who can 'smell Parkinson's' helps scientists develop diagnostic test.

Woman who can ‘smell Parkinson’s’ helps scientists develop diagnostic test.

Currently, there is no definite test for Parkinson’s disease, but Joy Milne detected it by sniffing T-shirts. It is hoped that she will also detect other ailments.

A woman who could “smell” Parkinson’s disease assisted scientists in developing a diagnostic test for the disease.

After scholars realized Joy Milne could smell the disease, the test has been in development for years.

An unusual illness gives the 72-year-old woman from Perth, Scotland, a heightened sense of smell.

Woman who can 'smell Parkinson's' helps scientists develop diagnostic test.

She noted that her late husband, Les, had a peculiar odor when he was 33, around 12 years before he was diagnosed with the condition, which causes sections of the brain to deteriorate over several years.

Mrs. Milne, dubbed “the woman who can smell Parkinson’s,” noted a “musky” odor, distinct from his usual odor.

Her finding piqued the interest of scientists, who proceeded to investigate what she could smell and whether this could be utilized to identify others with the neurological disorder.

Years later, researchers at the University of Manchester have developed a test that can detect Parkinson’s disease patients using a simple cotton bud rubbed over the back of the neck.

Possible NHS rollout

Researchers can analyze the sample to find chemicals associated with the disease to diagnose a patient.

While research is still in its infancy, scientists are optimistic that the NHS will soon be ready to deploy a simple test for the disease.

Parkinson’s disease is now diagnosed mainly on the patient’s symptoms and medical history, as there is no definitive test available.

If the novel skin swab is successful outside of the laboratory, it could be implemented to facilitate a quicker diagnosis.

Mrs. Milne deemed it “unacceptable” that Parkinson’s patients had so severe neurological damage at the time of diagnosis.

“I think it has to be detected far earlier – the same as cancer and diabetes,” she said. The earlier the diagnosis, the more effective the treatment and the higher the quality of life for the patient.

She continued, “It has been discovered that exercise and dietary changes can make a remarkable effect.”

They sought out Dr. Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh in 2012 because her husband, a former physician, was “motivated” to find the perfect researcher to investigate the link between odor and Parkinson’s.

Scratching T-shirts

Dr. Kunath and Professor Perdita Barran collaborated to investigate Mrs. Milne’s sense of smell.

Scientists suspected that a disease-induced chemical shift in skin oil, known as sebum, was responsible for the odor.

In their preliminary research, they invited Mrs. Milne to sniff T-shirts worn by Parkinson’s patients and healthy individuals.

Mrs. Milne accurately identified the t-shirts worn by Parkinson’s patients, but she also stated that one person in the control group smelled like a Parkinson’s patient; eight months later, that person was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

Researchers anticipated the discovery might lead to the development of a test to detect Parkinson’s, reasoning that if they were able to establish a unique chemical signature in the skin connected to Parkinson’s, they may one day be able to diagnose the disease using simple skin swabs.

Researchers at the University of Manchester, led by Professor Barran, reported in 2019 that they have identified disease-related chemicals in skin swabs.

Using this knowledge, the scientists have designed a test.

Correct care more rapidly

The tests have been completed successfully in research laboratories, and it is being determined whether they can be used in hospital settings.

If effective, the test might be implemented in the NHS, allowing general practitioners to send individuals for Parkinson’s examinations.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, describe how sebum may be analyzed with mass spectrometry – a technique that weighs molecules – to diagnose the condition.

Some chemicals are exclusive to those with Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers compared swabs from 79 Parkinson’s patients with swabs from 71 healthy individuals.

Parkinson’s disease affects about 10 million people worldwide, including singer Ozzy Osbourne, comedian Sir Billy Connolly, and actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed at age 29.

The degenerative disease is the neurological disorder with the quickest growth rate in the globe. Symptoms include tremors, particularly in the hands, problems with movement and balance, slowness, and excessive stiffness in the arms and legs.

Prof. Barran stated that there is currently no cure for the disease, but a confirmed diagnostic would expedite patients’ access to the correct treatment and medications.

She stated that exercise and dietary modifications would also be recommended, but “most importantly, it would allow patients to have a documented diagnosis and know exactly what’s wrong with them.”

She continued, “Currently, in Greater Manchester, approximately 18,000 people are waiting for a neurology consultation, and it will take up to two years to clear the list if no new patients are added.”

“Of them, 10-15% may have Parkinson’s disease. Our test would be able to determine if they had or did not have Parkinson’s disease and direct them to the appropriate specialist.

“Therefore, we are currently discussing the ability to refer patients to the appropriate specialists promptly, which will be revolutionary.”

Can she detect other illnesses?

Mrs. Milne is currently collaborating with experts around the world to determine if she can detect other ailments, such as cancer and tuberculosis, through her sense of smell (TB).

“I have to go shopping very early or very late because of people’s perfumes, I can’t go into the chemical aisle of the supermarket, so sometimes it is a curse, but I’ve also traveled to Tanzania and conducted a preliminary study on tuberculosis and cancer in the United States.

Thus, it is both a curse and a boon.

She reported that she can sometimes smell Parkinson’s patients in the supermarket or on the street, but medical ethicists have advised her not to tell them.

“Which general practitioner would accept a man or woman stating, ‘The woman who smells Parkinson’s informed me I have it?’? Perhaps in the future, but not right now.”


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