Joy Milne can smell Parkinson’s disease. This Scotland native noticed an evident change in her husband’s scent six years before he was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease. When Milne brought up her incredible sense of smell to neuroscientist Tilo Kunath, it was dismissed as nonsense. Kunath eventually agreed to test the truth of Milne’s claim after encouragement by an associate. Milne smelled twelve shirts, six of Parkinson’s patients and six healthy patients. She answered eleven out of the twelve correctly– and the owner of the one shirt she misinterpreted as having Parkinson’s was diagnosed one year later.
Milne identified the source of the smell near each shirt collar, around the area of the neck containing sebaceous glands, which secrete sebum. Dermatologists have been recording excess sebum production in Parkinson’s patients for decades. Neurologists now have reason to link overworking sebaceous glands with an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease.
Neurologists now have reason to link overworking sebaceous glands with an early symptom of Parkinson’s disease.
A team of scientists is currently working to identify the molecular marker of this specific scent. Finding molecular markers is the easy part; pinpointing the single right marker, out of the nine thousand found in sebaceous secretions, is the challenge. Due to the recent nature of this scent discovery, much of the research remains in preliminary stages.
New tests to detect early stage Parkinson’s disease are already in the works. Valid possibilites include a urine test to identify the markers as mentioned above, a breath test similar to the urine test, and specially trained scent detection canines.. All of these tests bring hope to Parkinson’s patients. With early detection, Parkinson’s patients can receive medication to slow the progression of the disease. Joy Milne has opened an incredible door of opportunity for all those affected by Parkinson’s disease. Though her husband passed away, Joy’s superpower will continue to improve countless lives.
Kwon, Diana. (2015). One Woman’s Ability to Sniff Out Parkinson’s Offers Hope to Others. Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/one-woman-s-ability-to-sniff-out-parkinson-s-offers-hope-to-sufferers/