WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- According to a new study, a woman with a special sense of smell can detect Parkinson’s disease in a person by a ‘musky’ smell before actually getting diagnosed with the condition.
- Using mass spectrometry analysis, the researchers crafted experiments that copies what the woman can do once she detects these scents.
- The results could potentially help people monitor their condition in the early stages of the disease as well as provide early diagnosis of the disease.
Over 10 million people across the globe are living with Parkinson’s, a number that is expected to escalate as population ages. While there are no conclusive diagnostic tests for Parkinson’s yet, that may change soon. Thanks to a woman named Joy Milne, who can practically detect the brain disease by smelling it on someone before symptoms manifest.
As peculiar as it is, Joy became aware of the “musky” smell on her husband 10 years prior to being diagnosed by doctors with Parkinson’s. Later she realized that both smell and disease were connected after meeting other people with the condition.
In a new study published in ACS Central Science, scientists have hypothesized that the scents that Joy had been picking up may be related to sebum. An oily secretion that keeps our hair and skin naturally moisturized, this is produced in higher amounts among patients with Parkinson’s.
Even though it’s already known that Parkinson’s causes increased sebum production, the scientists wanted to determine the specific biomarkers that were giving off the odors that Joy had been smelling. Thus, to extract individual compounds, they used mass spectrometry chemical analysis.
Perdita Barran from the University of Manchester in the UK told the BBC that some experiments were designed to mimic what Joy can do when she picks up these scents on people with Parkinson’s.
To present samples for ‘super smeller’ Joy to analyze, swabs were taken from 64 participants some of whom have Parkinson’s and some without.
Findings revealed that the volunteers with Parkinson’s have higher levels of hippuric acid, eicosane, octadecanal, and other biomarkers in their sebum which is tied to the changing neurotransmitter levels among people with the condition.
While there’s no cure for Parkinson’s yet, Barran said the results would significantly have an “impact for earlier and conclusive diagnosis as well as help patients monitor the effect of therapy.” Aside from this, the researchers’ ultimate goal is to be able to come up with treatments that can prevent the disease from spreading.
Although 64 samples is relatively small and it’s not yet clear how early a sebum scent could recognize the disease, still, there’s a lot of potential here. It would be easier to take and analyze scents once a swab test is developed.
Further, scientists think that only those with a specially acute sense of smell like Joy’s will be able to discern different odors. Joy who also claims that she can smell Alzheimer’s disease and cancer will soon be working with the team on a test for spotting tuberculosis.
Source: Science Alert