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Woman who can 'smell' Parkinson's is helping scientists with research

James Hilsum

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Woman who can 'smell' Parkinson's is helping scientists with research

Featured Image Credit: chris watt / Alamy Stock Photo

An incredible story has emerged detailing a potentially ground-breaking discovery in the research to help combat Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is a disease that cause parts of the brain to become damaged over many years. It is caused by a loss of nerve cells in part of the brain that ultimately leads to a reduction of the dopamine chemical.

Among the main symptoms of Parkinson’s includes: involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body, slow movement, and stiff and inflexible muscles.

It is estimated that one in 500 people are affected by the condition, and many people with the condition develop symptoms once they are over the age of 50. However, one in 20 people can have symptoms when they're under the age of 40.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, but one woman with a hyper-sensitive sense of smell has taken part in research to determine if someone has the disease.

Credit: PA Media
Credit: PA Media

Joy Milne, a 72-year-old from Perth in Scotland, has a rare condition that gives her a hyper-sensitive sense of smell.

Her husband, Les, suffered with Parkinson’s and Joy claims that he developed a different odour when he was 33, 12 years before he was diagnosed.

She says that her husband had developed a different scent, which sparked the interest of scientists conducting research into the condition.

It has subsequently helped academics at the University of Manchester to develop a procedure that can identify those with the condition by using a cotton bud run along the back of the neck to collect a sebum sample.

After this test, researchers can then use the sample collected to find molecules associated with the disease to determine if someone has it.

Despite it being in its early phases, there is a genuine hope among scientists that this simple test could be rolled out across the NHS.

Milne said it is 'not acceptable' that Parkinson’s is not being diagnosed sooner, with many people with the disease having already suffered high levels of neurological damage.

Joy Milne has helped to developed a study into the diagnosis of Parkinson's. Credit: Pexels
Joy Milne has helped to developed a study into the diagnosis of Parkinson's. Credit: Pexels

"I think it has to be detected far earlier – the same as cancer and diabetes, earlier diagnosis means far more efficient treatment and a better lifestyle for people.

“It has been found that exercise and change of diet can make a phenomenal difference," she said.

With Milne's help, Dr Tilo Kunath of the University of Edinburgh and Professor Perdita Barran led a study which found that molecules linked to the disease were discovered in skin swabs.

In the experiment they asked Milne to smell T-shirts worn by people who have Parkinson’s and those who did not.

Amazingly, Milne correctly identified the T-shirts worn by Parkinson’s patients. She also said that one from the group of people without Parkinson’s smelled like the disease – eight months later the individual who wore the T-shirt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.

A test using this information was developed, with the findings revealed in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Prof Barran said: “At the moment, there are no cures for Parkinson’s but a confirmatory diagnostic would allow them to get the right treatment and get the drugs that will help to alleviate their symptoms.”

Mrs Milne said that her husband, who died seven years ago, was like a 'changed man' after researchers found the link between Parkinson’s and odour.

Topics: Health, UK News, Science

James Hilsum
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