A nurse who smelled her husband’s Parkinson’s disease (PD) even before he was diagnosed has helped researchers in the UK identify four biomarkers of the disease (ACS Cent. Sci. 2019, DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.8b00879). These compounds, isolated from skin secretions, could help researchers develop a new diagnostic tool for PD before motor symptoms develop.
Joy Milne is a supersmeller, someone with an extremely sensitive sense of smell. After Milne’s husband, Les, was diagnosed with PD in 1986, Milne realized that Les’s “musky” smell was one he shared with other people with PD. Working with Milne, Perdita Barran’s team at the University of Manchester used gas chromatography–mass spectrometry to isolate four chemicals that were present in different amounts in the skin sebum of PD patients compared with people who did not have PD. Milne confirmed that a mix of those chemicals in specific proportions smells like PD.