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How A Woman Was Able To Smell Parkinson's: The Science Of Detecting Diseases Through The Sense of Smell

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Sixty-five-year-old Joy Milne from Scotland has always known that her sense of smell is keener than most people. This is why she was not immediately alarmed when she started to smell a strange odor from her husband, Les.

What she initially thought was merely the smell of sweat from her anesthesiologist husband, Les, was later believed by doctors to be the scent of Parkinson's disease, which had developed throughout the course of six years.

Milne was able to confirm that Les' musky odor was indeed the smell of Parkinson's when she detected the same scent from other patients diagnosed with the devastating disease at a Parkinson's UK charity event.

She later shared her observations to researchers at the University of Edinburgh who then scientifically verified Milne's ability to detect Parkinson's disease.

For the study, the researchers asked six individuals with Parkinson's and six others without the disease to wear T-shirts, which were then given to Milne for assessment through smelling.

At first, Milne was able to make the correct diagnosis for 11 out of the 12 T-shirts available. She said she was not able to detect the last shirt because the shirt with the warning scent was actually worn by one of the control group members.

The Edinburgh scientists were able to confirm Milne's assessment of the last shirt eight months later, making her Parkinson's disease detection to be one hundred percent accurate.

Milne's ability to smell the disease has led other researchers from different universities in the United Kingdom to carry out further investigations into chemicals on the skin of Parkinson's disease patients.

"That really impressed us," Tilo Kunath, one of the researchers at Edinburgh, said during a recent interview. "We had to dig further into this phenomenon."

The Scent of Disease

While humans are known to detect around 10,000 different scents, the ability to detect the odor of diseases is more closely associated with dogs.

The sense of smell of canines is four times more accurate compared to that of humans. This makes dogs potential candidates for developing an early warning system for various diseases.

A team of scientists at the Milton Keynes University Hospital together with the group Medical Detection Dogs have begun training medical dogs to identify the scent of prostate cancer in people's urine. The accuracy of the dogs' diagnosis will be determined through a clinical test in the future.

Lead investigator Rowena Fletcher said that having a dog present at every surgery may not be a practical method, but the potential of the animals for early cancer detection is far-reaching.

By identifying the smelling patterns of dogs, the researchers hope that an electronic machine capable of detecting diseases in urine samples can one day be developed.

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