Woman can ‘smell Parkinson’ helps scientists deliver groundbreaking diagnostic test | UK News

A woman who can “smell Parkinson’s” has helped scientists devise a test to identify the disease.

The test was carried out years after scientists realized Joy Milne could smell disease.

A 72-year-old woman from Perth, Scotland, has a rare condition that causes her sense of smell to be very high.

She noticed her late husband Les developed a different smell when he was 33 years old – about 12 years before he was diagnosed – resulting in parts of the brain becoming progressively damaged over the years. .

Mrs Milne, dubbed the ‘woman who can smell Parkinson’s disease’ described a “musky” fragrance, different from his usual smell.

Her observations caught the interest of scientists, who decided to study what she could smell and whether this could be used to help identify people with neurological diseases. are not.

Years later, scientists at the University of Manchester made a breakthrough developing a test that could identify people with Parkinson’s disease using a simple cotton swab that runs down the back of the neck.

Scientists have harnessed the power of her super-sensitive sense of smell to develop a test to determine if people have Parkinson's disease.  Release date: Wednesday, September 7, 2022.
Joy and Les Milne

Possible to deploy NHS

Researchers can test samples to identify disease-related molecules to help diagnose whether someone has the disease.

While it is still in the early stages of research, scientists are excited about the prospect that the NHS could deploy a simple test for the disease.

There is currently no definitive test for Parkinson’s disease, with diagnosis based on a patient’s symptoms and medical history.

If the new skin swab is successful outside of laboratory conditions, it could be rolled out for faster diagnosis.

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Ms Milne said it was “unacceptable” for people with Parkinson’s to have such a high level of neurological damage at the time of diagnosis.

“I think it should have been caught a lot earlier – like cancer and diabetes,” she said. “Earlier diagnosis means much more effective treatment and a better lifestyle for everyone.”

She added: “It’s been found that exercise and dietary changes can make an amazing difference.”

She said her husband, a former doctor, was “determined” to find the right researchers to look at the link between smell and Parkinson’s disease, and they reached out to Dr Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh in 2012.

Sniff T-shirt

Dr. Kunath teamed up with Professor Perdita Barran to test Mrs. Milne’s sense of smell.

Scientists believe the scent may be due to a chemical change in skin oils, called sebum, caused by the disease.

During their initial work, they asked Mrs. Milne to smell the T-shirts of people with Parkinson’s disease and people without Parkinson’s disease.

Ms. Milne pinpointed the T-shirt worn by Parkinson’s patients, but she also said one person in a group of people without Parkinson’s disease smelled like the disease – eight months later, the T-shirt wearer was diagnosed have Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers hope the finding could lead to a test being developed to detect Parkinson’s disease, which works under the assumption if they can identify a single chemical marker in the skin associated with Parkinson’s disease. , they could eventually diagnose the condition from simple skin swabs.

In 2019, researchers at the University of Manchester, led by Professor Barran, announced that they had identified molecules associated with the disease found in skin swabs.

And now scientists have developed a test using this information.

Get the right treatment faster

Trials have been successfully conducted in research laboratories, and evaluations are underway to see if they can be used in a hospital setting.

If successful, the test could be used in the NHS so GPs can refer patients for Parkinson’s testing.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, detail how to analyze sebum using mass spectrometry – a method of weighing molecules – to identify disease.

Some molecules are found only in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers compared swabs from 79 people with Parkinson’s with a healthy control group of 71 people.

More than 10 million people worldwide live with Parkinson’s disease, including musicians Ozzy Osbournecomedian Sir Billy Connolly and actor Michael J. Foxwho was diagnosed at the age of 29.

Degenerative disease is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world. It has many symptoms including tremors – especially in the hands – gait and balance problemssluggish and extremely stiff in the arms and legs.

Prof Barran said there is currently no cure for it, but a confirmed diagnosis would allow patients to get the right treatment and medication more quickly.

Image of Sir Billy Connolly in 2019
Sir Billy Connolly Living With Parkinson’s Disease

Read more:
Scientists take ‘major step’ towards finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease

She said exercise and nutritional changes would also be recommended, but “most importantly, it would allow them to have a confirmed diagnosis to really know what they have.”

She added: “Currently in Greater Manchester there are around 18,000 people waiting for neurological consultation and just to clear that list, without any new people joining, would take up to two years.

“Of those, 10-15% suspect Parkinson’s. Our test can tell them if they have Parkinson’s disease and allow them to be referred to the right specialist.

“So right now, we’re talking about being able to refer people in a timely manner to the right major, and that’s going to be transformative.”

Can she smell other illnesses?

Ms. Milne is currently working with scientists around the world to see if she can smell other diseases like cancer and tuberculosis (TB).

“I have to go shopping very early or very late because of everyone’s perfume, I can’t go in the chemical aisle in the supermarket, so yeah, I’m cursed sometimes but I’ve also been to Tanzania and really currently doing tuberculosis and cancer research in the US – preliminary work.

“So it’s a curse and a boon.”

She said she can sometimes smell people with Parkinson’s when she goes to the supermarket or walks down the street, but has been told by medical professionals she can’t tell them.

“What GP would accept a man or a woman walking in, saying ‘the woman who smells Parkinson’s told me I have it’? Maybe in the future, but not now. hours.”

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