From the News: The woman who can smell Parkinson's disease

The woman who can smell Parkinson's disease

Joy Milne's husband, Les, died in June, aged 65.  He worked as a consultant anaesthetist before being diagnosed with Parkinson's at the age of 45.  Joy noticed something had changed with her husband long before he was diagnosed - six years before.

She says: "His smell changed and it seemed difficult to describe. It wasn't all of a sudden. It was very subtle - a musky smell. I got an occasional smell."

Joy only linked this odour to Parkinson's after joining the charity Parkinson's UK and meeting people with the same distinct odour.

By complete chance she mentioned this to scientists at a talk. They were intrigued.

Edinburgh University decided to test her - and she was very accurate.

Dr Tilo Kunath, a Parkinson's UK fellow at the school of biological sciences at Edinburgh University, was one of the first scientists Joy spoke to.  He says: "The first time we tested Joy we recruited six people with Parkinson's and six without.

"We had them wear a t-shirt for a day then retrieved the t-shirts, bagged them and coded them. Her job was to tell us who had Parkinson's and who didn't. Her accuracy was 11 out of 12. We were quite impressed."

Dr Kunath adds: "She got the six Parkinson's but then she was adamant one of the 'control' subjects had Parkinson's. But he was in our control group so he didn't have Parkinson's. According to him and according to us as well he didn't have Parkinson's. But eight months later he informed me that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's. So Joy wasn't correct for 11 out of 12, she was actually 12 out of 12 correct at that time.

"That really impressed us and we had to dig further into this phenomenon."

And that is exactly what they are doing. They hope to find the molecular signature responsible for the odour and then develop a simple test such as wiping a person's forehead with a swab.