Scientists discover the chemicals behind the unique Parkinson’s smell

Mar 28, 2019

HIPPOCRATES, GALEN, Avicenna and other ancient physicians frequently used odour as a diagnostic tool. Although scent is not used nearly as often in modern medicine, it still has its place. Paramedics are routinely taught to spot the fruity smell on the breath of diabetics who have become hyperglycaemic and gastroenterologists are trained to detect the odour of digested blood. But there has been scant evidence of a smell associated with neurodegenerative disorders. Now one has been found for Parkinson’s disease.

Frequently causing tremors, rigidity and dementia, Parkinson’s is both debilitating and substantially shortens life expectancy. The rate at which these symptoms appear and worsen cannot be stopped or slowed yet but its most harmful effects can be staved off with drugs. As with many diseases, the earlier the intervention, the better. Yet herein lies one of the greatest challenges—there are no tests that diagnose whether Parkinson’s is actually present. The best that neurologists can do is study the symptoms and theorise about whether someone actually has the disease. Hence the search is on for a better form of diagnosis. Unexpectedly, scientists are now literally following someone’s nose.

Joy Milne, a retired nurse from Perth, Scotland has an extraordinary sense of smell. Known as hyperosmia, Mrs Milne’s condition...

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