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Sense of smell and Parkinson’s

Parkinson’s disease has a specific odor

According to a theory put forth by researchers at the Parkinson’s UK foundation. A 65-year-old Scottish woman claims she can smell this degenerative disease on the skin of those afflicted with it.

This story began a few years earlier, when Joy Milne noted an unusual odor on her husband Les, who was not yet showing any symptoms of the disease. “His smell changed, and it seemed difficult to describe. It wasn’t all of a sudden. It was very subtle – a musky smell.” It was only after she joined the Parkinson’s UK Foundation and met others with the same odor that Joy recognized the link between that distinct smell and Parkinson’s disease.

Several scientists were intrigued by her discovery and decided to investigate. To test the hypothesis, they had Joy sniff 12 t-shirts, six of which had been worn by people with Parkinson’s and six by people without. They asked her to identify which were which. Joy had a 100% success rate.

Parkinson’s UK subsequently launched a research project aiming to establish a link between the odor and the disease. The likeliest explanation is that Parkinson’s causes a change in the sebum, creating a distinct odor on the skin. Scientists are hoping to identify the molecule responsible for this odor in order to develop a quick and effective screening test. This would mean better tracking of the disease and adapted treatments for patients.

This is not the first time a link between odor and disease is being explored. Many scientists are currently working to develop “electronic noses” that can effectively diagnose certain cancers and their stage by testing patients’ breath.

Inspired by the BBC News article “The woman who can smell Parkinson’s disease”

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