Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson's

I had thought I'd blogged about this already, when I first read about it a year or so ago, but apparently not. So, here, belatedly, is an article about The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson's. I actually watched a BBC documentary on her last night, at a Parkinson's support group meeting, and it's certainly a fascinating story.
Scottish retired nurse Joy Milne is one in a million (or, most likely, one in many millions). She has a ridiculously acute sense of smell. One researcher describes her as somewhere between a human and a dog - but in a nice way. Joy's husband Les was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) when he was in his late 30s, but Joy noticed that his smell had subtly changed some 6 years before that diagnosis. When she started attending Parkinson's support groups with her husband, she noticed that all the other PD sufferers had a similar smell to them. Les died at the age of 65 in 2015, but before he died Joy promised him that she would bring her special knowledge to the attention of PD researchers in case it could be of any help to others in the future.
At first the researchers were skeptical of her claims. But they were largely convinced when Joy identified 11 out of 12 Parkinson's sufferers and control candidates in a blind test, just by smelling their clothes. Then, when the one individual that she had identified as having Parkinson's, but who was actually in the control group, was later diagnosed as indeed having Parkinson's, the whole scientific world sat up and took note.
Joy's ability to identify Parkinson's by smell, even before normal symptoms start to show, holds up the possibility of early detection of the disease, either by trained dogs, or by the scientific identification of which specific molecules make up the particular tell-tale odour that Joy is able to detect. Joy has been dilligently working with researchers and mass spectroscopy technicians, and has been able to identify 10 molecules that appear to be linked to the condition. Although there is currently no cure for PD, new advances in our knowledge of the disease are being made almost every day, and at the very least the research could lead to a definitive clinical diagnostic test for Parkinson's Disease, something that just does not exist at the moment.
It's certainly a fascinating and exciting development. And how cool that a dumpy Scottish senior has super powers like this.

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