A remarkable Scottish lady, Joy Milne from Perth has become a scientific phenomenon in the world of Parkinson's Research. Joy has such an acute sense of smell she can detect people with Parkinson's even before they've been diagnosed. Retired nurse, Joy realised this unique gift when she noticed a distinct change in smell emanating from her husband and linked it with an odour she had noticed around Parkinson's patients. Joy, in fact, diagnosed her husband some 5 or 6 years before he was officially diagnosed, sadly Joy's husband Les passed away in 2015.
Since 2015 Joy convinced Manchester University to do a study on the volatile molecules that were triggering the responses she was describing. The study showed that a number of compounds, particularly hippuric acid, eicosane, and octadecane, were found in higher than usual concentrations on the skin of Parkinson's patients. They are contained in sebum - the oily secretion that coats everybody's skin, but which is often produced in greater quantity by people with Parkinson's, making them more likely to develop a skin complaint called seborrheic dermatitis. Lead author Prof Perdita Barran, from the school of chemistry at the University of Manchester, told BBC Scotland:
What we found are some compounds that are more present in people who have got Parkinson's disease and the reason we've discovered them is because Joy Milne could smell a difference. She could smell people who've got Parkinson's disease. So we designed some experiments to mimic what Joy does, to use a mass spectrometer to do what Joy can do when she smells these things on people with Parkinson's.During the study, 12 people were blind tested by Joy - 6 with Parkinson's and 6 without Parkinson's. Joy identified all the T-shirts worn by the Parkinson's patients and said one more bore the same scent. Eight months later, the wearer was diagnosed with the disease! Joy, who has worked with the University of Manchester on the research for three years, has now been named in a paper being published in the journal ACS Central Science, she has also been made an honorary lecturer at the Manchester University due to the help and assistance she has given to identifying the smell. Currently, there is no known cure for Parkinson's and diagnosis can be somewhat time-consuming as GP's often have to monitor symptoms like struggling to walk, speak and sleep. Prof Barren hopes that the findings will help with the early diagnosis of the disease.
What we might hope is if we can diagnose people earlier, before the motor symptoms come in, that there will be treatments that can prevent the disease spreading. So that's really the ultimate ambitionTell us about your experiences with Parkinson's in the comments section below.