Update: The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson’s

Joy Milne's amazing nose may lead to a scientific breakthrough

One of my favourite stories of all time goes like this:
A woman noticed her husband started smelling strange; like a musty, dirty smell. A decade later, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She joined him at support group meetings and noticed that the people there smelled just like her husband. She realised she could smell Parkinson’s disease.

She told some scientists and they decided to test her. They gave her 12 shirts to smell- 6 from people diagnosed with Parkinson’s and 6 from the control group who did not have Parkinson’s.  This woman identified all 6 people with Parkinson’s by smelling their shirt. But, she got one of the control group wrong; said one of the 6 had the disease. Still, pretty impressive.

A few months later, that person in the control group, whom she had smelled ‘wrong’ and said had the disease was indeed diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Amazing.

This is a true story. The woman’s name is Joy Milne and she’s from England. 

Today, scientists in Manchester are working on isolating the molecules in the scent that Joy Milne can smell. They hope to be able to use it as a test for Parkinson’s disease.


UPDATE: March 20, 2019

Researchers have discovered that a number of compounds  “particularly hippuric acid, eicosane, and octadecanal, were found in higher than usual concentrations on the skin of Parkinson’s patients.” Read more HERE

Read more from the BBC here.

Images: Screencaps from the above BBC video.