Parkinson's disease is a nervous system disorder whose symptoms include shaking and slowness of movement. About one in 500 people suffer from this degenerative illness that is difficult to diagnose and for which there is no cure. The widow of a man who suffered from Parkinson's has triggered new research into the condition after she discovered that she could 'smell' a change in the odor of her late husband years before he developed symptoms of Parkinson's.
Joy Milne, 65, told researchers, "I've always had a keen sense of smell and I detected very early on that there was a very subtle change in how Les smelled. It's hard to describe but it was a heavy, slightly musky aroma. I had no idea that this was unusual and hadn't been recognized before."
Milne made the connection between the smell and Parkinson's disease after picking up the same odor from other sufferers. She went ahead to tell researchers, who dubbed her 'super-smeller' after finding that she could identify Parkinson's sufferers from T-shirts they had slept in. This revelation prompted research charity Parkinson's UK to launch a project to find whether the disease and odor are linked.
Arthur Roach, director of research at the charity, said, "It's very early days in the research, but if it's proved there is a unique odour associated with Parkinson's, particularly early on in the condition, it could have a huge impact. Not just on early diagnosis, but it would also make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson's, something no current drug can achieve."
The research team is investigating whether the condition triggers changes in sebum, an oily substance secreted by skin, and aim to recruit 200 people with and without the condition for the study. Swabs taken from them will be analyzed by machine at the molecular level, and will also be scrutinized by Milne and a team of smell experts from the food and drink industry.