Woman who can smell Parkinson’s helps scientists develop test

Maya Devi

Scientists in the UK have used the ability of a woman's hypersensitive sense of smell to develop a test that helps detect whether a person has Parkinson's disease. Scientists have realized that Joy Milne could smell Parkinson's disease and they’re developing a test to detect people with the condition.

She hails from Scotland and has a rare condition, hereditary hyperosmia, which gives her a heightened sense of smell. The fact came to light when she noticed that her late husband developed an unusual odor when he was 33 years old, nearly 12 years before he was diagnosed with the disease. Parkinson's causes progressive damage to various parts of the brain which happens over many years. She has been nicknamed the woman who can smell Parkinson's.

Her unusual ability caught the attention of scientists working on this neurological condition. A breakthrough test has been developed by researchers at the University of Manchester. In this test, a simple cotton bud is run along the back of the neck. The sample thus obtained is used to identify molecules linked to the disease.

Though research is in the nascent stage, scientists are excited about the prospect of the NHS being able to use this sample test in detecting this disease. At present, there is no test to detect Parkinson's. The diagnosis is purely based on the medical history and symptoms of the patient.

Scientists believe that the scent is caused by a chemical change in the skin oil, sebum. This change is triggered by the neurological condition. A researcher Barran said that at present there is no cure for the disease but a diagnostic test confirming it will certainly be of help in early intervention and treatment of the same.

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