Parkinson’s disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose, so much so that doctors still use the diagnostic methods first created in 1817 to find it. Part of that is how the degenerative nerve disease functions, as cells in the substantia nigra begin dying. There’s no cure, yet, but catching it early allows sufferers to begin therapeutic treatments and improve quality of life. Yet, usually, it takes showing signs of the disease before you can diagnose it… until Joy Milne, it turns out.
Milne has the inexplicable ability to spot Parkinson’s by smelling it on someone, what she describes as a “musky odor.” She first noticed it in her husband and is so effective, she can spot Parkinson’s before doctors diagnose it, even in a controlled study:
… she was adamant one of the ‘control’ subjects had Parkinson’s. According to him and according to us as well he didn’t have Parkinson’s. But eight months later he informed me that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Researchers are currently working to isolate what Joy is smelling, and if they’re successful, it would be the earliest possible test for Parkinson’s we’ve been able to find. It would not only allow the earliest treatment possible, and thus better quality of life, it would also allow researchers to find the disease at its absolute earliest stages. Furthermore, there may be crucial information in the fact that Parkinson’s causes subtle changes in body chemistry we haven’t sussed out yet.
It’s not a cure, but Parkinson’s is a difficult disease to live with, and early diagnosis makes it much easier to do so. Joy Milne may wind up vastly reducing human misery… all by following her nose.