Meet the woman who can smell Parkinson's

A Parkinson's UK-funded study, inspired by a woman's ability to smell the condition, has resulted in the discovery of 10 molecules which could lead to the first diagnostic test for Parkinson's.

The story of Joy Milne – who featured in the BBC Scotland documentary The Woman Who Can Smell Parkinson's – is testament to the role that people who live with a health condition can have in inspiring scientists to make research breakthroughs.

Researchers at Manchester University first thought Parkinson's might have a discernible odour when Joy Milne of Perth, Scotland, said she had noticed a change in the way her husband smelled 6 years before he was diagnosed with the condition.

Joy said she noticed the change years before her husband developed any motor symptoms, pointing to the possibility to diagnose Parkinson's earlier than is currently known.

Tanith Muller, Parliamentary and Campaigns Manager at Parkinson’s UK in Scotland said:

"This whole story started with Joy coming along to a Parkinson's UK event. During a question and answer session, her claim to be able to smell Parkinson’s caught the attention of Parkinson's UK – supported researcher Dr Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh – and he investigated further.

"Tilo's initial findings – that Joy could indeed smell Parkinson's – then led to Parkinson's UK funding further research into whether Parkinson’s had its own aroma."

Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson's UK, added:

"It's very early days in the research, but if it's proved there is a unique odour associated with Parkinson's, particularly early on in the condition, it could have a huge impact.

"Not just on early diagnosis, but it would also make it a lot easier to identify people to test drugs that may have the potential to slow, or even stop Parkinson's, something no current drug can achieve."

Tanith Muller concludes:

"Parkinson's UK is committed to putting people affected with Parkinson's at the heart of everything we do. We recognise that the expertise that people gain from living with Parkinson's puts them in a unique and powerful position to influence the direction of research. We are proud of Joy and our part in turning one carer’s experience into a potentially significant scientific breakthrough."

Watch Joy's story on YouTube.