Can you smell Parkinson’s disease?

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Can you smell Parkinson's disease?
Can you smell Parkinson's disease?

Can you smell Parkinson’s disease? A British woman aged 67 can do that, and yes she not only smells Parkinson’s disease but also could help scientists discover 10 molecules linked to the condition which could lead to the first diagnostic test of the disease.

First, Researchers at Manchester University started believing Parkinson’s might have a discernible odour when Joy Milne of Perth, Scotland, claimed she can detect a change in the odour of her husband Les six years before the doctors diagnosed him with the condition.

Mrs Milne, said her husband’s –died in 2015 aged 65– smell changed subtly years before any difficulty with movement began to emerge.

By the time researchers conducted tests with Mrs Milne, they were stunned to find that she was able to identify people living with Parkinson’s from people without any condition by only smelling skin swabs taken from both groups.

Mrs Milne -in one case- identified a person who had Parkinson’s but at that time had not been diagnosed with the condition, because they had no any kind of symptoms.

Now scientists have become able to identify the 10 molecules which appear in high concentration of the skin swabs from patients with Parkinson.

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Prof Perdita Barran, who is the chair of Mass Spectrometry in the School of Chemistry at Manchester University opines “It is very humbling as a mere measurement scientist to have this ability to help find some signature molecules to diagnose Parkinson’s. It wouldn’t have happened without Joy”.

Parkinson’s disease affects one in every 500 people in the UK, with total of around 127,000, the disease is caused by the deterioration of neurons in a certain part of the brain. People with the condition struggle to move and even speak.

But actually there is currently no definitive test & symptoms typically only begin to show once more than half of the relevant nerve cells in the brain that have already been lost.

Mrs Milne was also tested at Edinburgh University. There Dr Tilo Kunath first confirmed her ability to detect Parkinson’s simply from smell.

Joy was provided 12 unmarked T-shirts to smell – 6 of those were worn by Parkinson’s patients and six worn by volunteers sans the disease, and correctly identified the patients.

If the molecules are correctly identified, then amazingly, dogs could be able to be trained to sniff out the disease or doctors could use mass spectrometry to diagnose.

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