This Woman Can Literally Sniff Out Parkinson’s

A super-smelling nurse from Scotland helped create a skin-swab-based diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s disease.

Chris Watt:alamy Stock Photo
Chris Watt:Alamy Stock Photo

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease that affects roughly a million people in the United States alone. While there is no cure, early detection and treatment are important in preserving the cognitive function of those hindered by the disease. A recent Scientific American article discussed how one woman’s superhuman sense of smell led to the development of a new diagnostic tool for Parkinson’s.

Joy Milne is a retired nurse with hereditary hyperosmia, a condition that makes her hypersensitive to smell. She noticed that her husband was emitting a musky odor, and years later linked the scent to his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Since then, she has worked with a team of scientists at the University of Manchester in England to develop her skill into a diagnostic tool. They used mass spectrometry to identify and quantify molecules in sebum, and found changes to lipids in people with Parkinson’s. The team is now working with local UK hospitals to see if their test can be employed in clinical labs and ultimately used for diagnoses.