Joy Milne: Woman who SNIFFED OUT husband's Parkinson's 12 years before diagnosis helps develop new test for disease
Her 'super-sniffer' led to the discovery that a skin secretion called sebum contained ten compounds that could point to Parkinson’s disease
LONDON, ENGLAND: Joy Milne, a 72-year-old woman from Australia, was able to sniff out Parkinson’s disease in her husband Les 12 years before he was diagnosed. Scientists are now thankful for her super sense of smell which led to the development of a test for Parkinson’s disease.
Milne has been a major asset to scientists, as a ‘super-smeller’ who can diagnose the disease simply by sniffing T-shirts a person has been wearing. It was her nose that discovered that the telltale scent of Parkinson’s comes most strongly from the back of people’s necks and between their shoulder blades.
Later, it was revealed that an oily substance called sebum, which is secreted from pores in the skin, contained ten compounds that could point to Parkinson’s disease. Researchers from Manchester University reveal that Parkinson’s disease can be identified within three minutes after swabbing the back of someone’s neck. There had previously been no particular test for the diagnosis of the disease. Doctors usually come to the conclusion of Parkinson's only after a diagnosis of someone’s symptoms and medical history.
Scientists have identified more than 500 compounds, including ‘fatty acids’ called triglycerides and diglycerides, which can be found in a patient's body and developed the first test for them. The test costs less than $23 and could be trialed in Greater Manchester within two years. It could help in an earlier diagnosis of the disease and might help sufferers preserve the function of their brain cells. Further, it can help a patient cut down on the jerky movements that often come with Parkinson's and slow down the disease.
Research leader Professor Perdita Barran, from Manchester University, spoke to DailyMail and said, "If Joy didn’t exist, I don’t think any of this would have happened – not just because of her nose, but because of her persistence in thinking her ability could help people." She added, "I was skeptical at first, but she has been proven right. We have now swabbed 2,000 people, and hope in the future GPs could use this test to confirm if someone might have Parkinson’s and fast-track them to specialists."
Milne is a retired nurse and has hereditary hyperosmia – a heightened sensitivity to smells. Thanks to her help in identifying sebum as a major source of the Parkinson’s scent, scientists have now published the results after testing the oily substance in 79 people with Parkinson’s compared with 71 healthy people. Milne said, "I promised my husband the night before he died that I would help with research on Parkinson’s until there is a test for this cruel disease. I feel lucky that I have this ability, to help people with early diagnosis."