LIFESTYLE
22/10/2015 09:01 BST | Updated 22/10/2016 10:12 BST

Woman Able To 'Sniff Out Parkinson's Disease' On People's Clothes Inspires Research

Scientists have begun research into whether a person's odour can be used to diagnose Parkinson's disease after a "supersmeller" detected the disease by sniffing T-shirts, the Press Association reports.

Researchers from the University of Manchester will analyse skin swabs taken to discover if the debilitating disease changes chemicals found in the skin, according to Parkinson's UK.

The study was launched after a Scottish woman, named in reports as Joy Milne, successfully identified sufferers by smelling T-shirts they had slept in. She could even detect subtle changes in smell in people who had not yet developed the condition.

Parkinson's, a disease of the central nervous system, causes progressive tremors, stiffness and slowness of movement. Currently there is no cure.

joy milne

Joy Milne with her late husband, Les

Mrs Milne's husband Les died in June after being diagnosed with Parkinson's, according to the BBC.

She told the broadcaster: "His smell changed and it seemed difficult to describe. It wasn't all of a sudden. It was very subtle - a musky smell. I got an occasional smell."

The 65-year-old made the link with Parkinson's onlyafter meeting other sufferers and happened to mention it to a scientist at a talk, prompting tests which found her sense of smell was accurate.

Parkinson's UK, which is funding the research, hope to find a link which could lead to earlier diagnosis. The charity estimates there are around 127,000 people with the disease in the UK.

Dr Arthur Roach, director of research at the charity, said: "Funding pioneering studies like this has the potential to throw Parkinson's into a completely new light.

"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."

Professor Perdita Barran of the University of Manchester will lead a team trying to identify differences in chemicals present on the skin surface of people with Parkinson's.

Scientists believe that Parkinson's may cause changes in the sebum – an oily substance in the skin – that results in a unique and subtle odour on the skin only detectable by people with a keen sense of smell. 

The team will recruit up to 200 people with and without Parkinson's to have a skin swab taken and fill in a brief questionnaire, before the samples are analysed by the "supersmeller" and experts from the food and drink industry.

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