Meet the woman who can smell Parkinson’s disease.
Joy Milne, a retired nurse, has an extraordinary sense of smell. However, it goes beyond simply having a very sensitive nose.
Milne has the ability to detect Parkinson’s disease years before a doctor’s diagnosis.
As described by Milne herself: “I’m in a tiny, tiny branch of the population somewhere between a dog and a human.”
She first stumbled across her unusual gift when her husband Les started omitting a strange odour.
At first, Milne attributed the smell to bad hygiene on her husband’s part, but everything changed when the couple attended a Parkinson’s meeting.
She then realised that her husband smelt the same as the other people in the room.
10 years later, Les was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“I smelled it 10 to 12 years before Les was diagnosed,” Milne explains. “As the Parkinson’s got worse, the smell got worse.
“It became just part of him, but I with my sensitive sense of smell, I could smell it all the time and it became quite uncomfortable really, but I had the sense not to nag too much.”
According to Milne, Parkinson’s disease has a very thick, musky smell.
Sadly, Les passed away at 65 years old, 20 years after his official Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Milne is now working with scientists to create a test that can detect Parkinson’s at an earlier stage of the disease.
Professor Perdita Barran, from the University of Manchester, illustrated how they’re testing Milne’s sense of smell.
“This experiment is to see whether Joy can distinguish the Parkinson’s smells from the samples that we’ve taken from patients as they’re separated and if she smells it we’ll then know right away what that molecule is.”
So far, Milne’s tests have been producing very promising results in the laboratory.
She’s feeling very optimistic about what the future may hold for the fight against Parkinson’s disease.
“If we get the test right, then we’ll never get to that stage because at that stage of diagnosis 60 to 70 per cent of damage, neural damage, is already done,” she says.
One person in the UK is told that they have Parkinson’s disease every hour, as stated by Parkinson’s UK.
That amounts to approximately 127,000 people in the UK and one out of every 500 people in the world.
There is currently no cure for the disease. However, there is hope that breakthroughs may be made in the future.