When Joy Milne first noticed an unusual musky smell on her husband Les' clothes she put it down to poor hygiene and asked him to have more baths. It wasn't until 10 years later, after Les had been diagnosed with Parkinson's, that she went to her first Parkinson’s support group and noticed the same distinctive smell on other people in the room.
By chance Joy happened to mention this to a scientist at a Parkinson's talk. They were intrigued and decided to test her abilities. Skin swabs were taken from Parkinson's patients and from a group of people without the condition. Joy was able to pick out all of the Parkinson's patients and even identified one person as having Parkinson’s who was only diagnosed 8 months later. This convinced everyone that the effect was real.
Now researchers have identified 10 signature molecules from the smell, which they hope can be used to diagnose Parkinson’s earlier than ever before. This will allow them find out much more about the early stages of the disorder and how it unfolds.
At the moment there is no test for Parkinson's and symptoms only start to show once many brain cells have already been lost. All around the world efforts are underway to find medicines which can stop the progression of Parkinson's, but they will have the best effect when given to people in the earliest possible stages. An early diagnosis would be life changing for people just starting out on their journey with Parkinson's and we can look forward to a time when people may never develop the most common symptoms of this devastating condition.