Joy Milne's unusual sense of smell led Dr. Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and a host of other scientists, to develop a new diagnostic test for Parkinson's.

HealthHeroes Scotland28. September 2023

A Nurse’s Ability to Smell Parkinson’s Has Paved the Way for a First-Ever Test

One woman’s acute sense of smell has led to the development of the first-ever Parkinson’s test.

“Joy was in the audience during a talk I was giving on my work, which has to do with Parkinson’s and stem cell biology. During the patient engagement portion of the talk, she asked me if Parkinson’s had a smell to it,” says Dr. Tilo Kunath, a neurobiologist at the Center for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Many years ago, nurse Joy Milne noticed a musty odor coming from her husband, Les. Twelve entire years later, Les was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Milne described how, in the years to come, she would occasionally pass someone on the street or in the grocery store and notice the same “woodsy” smell that her husband had. Intrigued, Milne attended Dr. Kunath’s talk about Parkinson’s Disease.

Dr. Kunath alongside other scientists decided to test Milne’s theory, where she detected with 100 percent accuracy whether or not a person had Parkinson’s using only her sense of smell. The group of scientists are now working together to create a test that will be able to do the same thing. With more than ten million people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease globally, the first test for this disease will be a major milestone for patients and families alike.


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