Retired nurse’s ability to smell Parkinson’s chemicals raises hope for early diagnosis

Joy Milne detected musky odour on her late husband before his condition was known
Joy Milne and Perdita Barran

Joy Milne detected musky odour on her late husband before his condition was known

Joy Milne, left, with Perdita Barran of the University of Manchester. 

A retired nurse who can smell the presence of Parkinson's disease has led scientists to identify the causes a telltale odour, raising hopes for an early diagnostic tool.

Joy Milne, from Perth in Scotland, told scientists she had detected a subtle change in how her late husband, Les, smelled, ahead of his diagnosis with the condition. She described the 'musky' scent to a researcher at a Parkinson's UK lecture.

As a result, a University of Manchester study was set up to investigate.

Prospect of an early diagnostic

The findings have been published by the journal ACS Central Science, and there are hopes the discovery could help diagnose people with the condition before symptoms relating to motor control emerge.

Lead study author Perdita Barran told the BBC: 'What we found are some compounds that are more present in people who have Parkinson's disease and the reason we've discovered them is Joy Milne could smell a difference. She could smell people who've got Parkinson's disease.'

The scientists designed experiments to mimic Ms Milne's sense of smell. The volatile biomarkers they identified may help to develop a simple test for early detection of the disease.

'What we might hope is if we can diagnose people earlier, before the motor symptoms come in, there will be treatments that can prevent the disease spreading,' added Professor Barran.

'That's really the ultimate ambition.'

Around one adult in every 350 in the UK has Parkinson's disease, meaning 145,000 people in the UK have with the condition.

Further information

Read the research paper

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