A former nurse from Scotland who can smell the “musky odor” of Parkinson’s disease has helped scientists create a new test that can detect the illness early. “Super smeller”Joy Milne says she first noticed the scent on her husband, Les, 12 years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but she didn’t realize what the smell was until she went to a Parkinson’s support group and found everyone in the room smelled the same.
Milne told a neurobiologist who studies the disease about her scent revelation. They tested her by having her sniff T-shirts worn by either healthy people or Parkinson’s patients. Milne identified all those worn by the patients and said one more T-shirt bore the same scent. Eight months later, the wearer was diagnosed with the disease. and they have since used her ability to sniff it out to design a test that can detect Parkinson’s sooner, before tremors and other symptoms appear. This could mean more patients could be diagnosed earlier and those who could benefit from experimental drugs could get them.
This amazing nose of Milne’s has also identified the scents of other diseases. She says Alzheimer’s smells “vaguely of vanilla,” and that cancer has “a more earthy odor.” And she’s now working with researchers to identify the scent linked with tuberculosis. Now the scientists have located those smells from compounds in sebum, a waxy fluid that is secreted by glands in the skin, particularly on the upper back where Milne said the scent was strongest.