Parkinson’s disease is a disorder where the nervous system slowly disintegrates. Its early symptoms are barely noticeable, and over time, these symptoms will worsen and often end up in death. Although incurable, early detection of Parkinson’s disease helps better the patient’s well-being during the process and lowers the cost of potential treatment. Furthermore, medications and treatments are proven to improve the said symptoms.
However, diagnosis of the disease, especially in its early stages, is difficult. Diagnosis rests on the patient’s clinical information and medical findings. It can take years to receive an accurate diagnosis and can be mistaken with other diseases with the same symptoms. But apparently, a 65-year-old Scottish woman was able to detect Parkinson’s disease by detecting the change in her husband’s smell.
Joy Milne is a grandmother of seven from Perth, Scotland who lost her husband, Les, in June 2015. She said that she noticed a change in her husband’s odor six years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 45. She recalled that the musky smell started subtly. At first, she dismissed it, recalling that she thought it was just due to her husband’s long hours at work. It was after attending a charity meeting for the disease that she interacted with people with the same distinct odor and was able to link the two.
She mentioned this realization to Dr. Tilo Kunath, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh, during a lecture. The latter was intrigued and invited Milne to do some experiments.
Six people with Parkinson’s and six without were drafted by Edinburgh University and was asked to wear the shirt for a day. The scientists then retrieved the shirts, bagged and classified them. They provided Milne 12 T-shirts and she was to tell them who had Parkinson’s and who did not. She accurately detected the presence of disease in 11 out of 12 people.
However, Milne was steadfast that she did not make a mistake, even if the “suspected subject” supposedly belonged in the control group. Eight months later, the said subject was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
This experiment led to further digging and experts were able to discover that the disease changes the odor of sebum, an oily substance secreted by the skin. Researchers at Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester are hoping to confirm findings that the condition can be diagnosed by odor alone. Since there is not a specific diagnostic test for Parkinson’s disease, this accidental discovery could cause a breakthrough and could make the diagnostic process so much easier.