Back in 1982, Joy Milne noticed that her husband Les, who was in his early 30s at the time, started to smell different. A decade later, her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and then in 2009 they got involved with Parkinson’s UK and she realized that everyone with the neurodegenerative disease shared that same distinctive smell.
Milne approached disease researcher Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh, who consulted his colleague Perdita Barran at the University of Manchester who specializes in smells and the three of them started a ten-year process that ultimately led to the development of a simple skin-swab test that is 95% accurate in diagnosing Parkinson’s. Barran says there’s not currently a chemical test for the disease and at any given time thousands of people are on wait lists for neurological consultations.
Their goal is to create a test that any GP doctor would be able to use at their practice and they say that would be “transformative.” Although they have developed the test in the laboratory environment, it will likely be a couple of years before the tests would be widely available. Milne knows what a difference a test like this would have made for her family. "We would have traveled more. If we had known earlier it might have explained the mood swings and depression," she says.