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Health Buzz: This Woman Can Smell Parkinson’s Disease – and Scientists Want Her Help

Joy Milne told the BBC she smelled it 10 to 12 years before her husband was diagnosed, and it worsened along with the disease. (Getty Images)

What if you could diagnose someone with a disease just by smelling it?

That’s what 67-year-old Joy Milne claims she did when she smelled Parkinson’s diseaseeven before it was diagnosed in her husband, Les, reports the BBC. She “sensed a strange smell when he was around,” but after they attended a Parkinson’s support group in the U.K. two years ago just before her husband died, it became clear she could smell the same scent on other people, too.

Scientists were able to confirm her ability after she smelled the disease on six T-shirts belonging to Parkinson’s patients – and one from the control group of six other T-shirts worn by people who did not have Parkinson’s at the time, reports the BBC. But that one person was later diagnosed with Parkinson’s several months later.

Milne – and her nose – are currently working with scientists as they try to come up with a diagnostic test for the illness, which is characterized by stiffness, trembling and affected balance, according to the National Institutes of Health. Scientists are trying to find the exact molecules that make up the odor Milne can smell, and so far, they’ve found 10 molecules specific to those with Parkinson’s disease. There’s no medical test for the condition, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes doctors usually diagnose the disease through neurological and physical evaluations.

What does Parkinson’s smell like, exactly? “Thick, musk smell,” Milne says. “Very different.” She told the BBC she smelled it 10 to 12 years before her husband was diagnosed, and it worsened along with the disease. He lived with the disease for 20 years before he died in 2015.

 

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