Scientists may have developed a quick and easy swab test for Parkinson’s disease - inspired by a woman who can identify it by smell

Scientists may have developed a quick and easy swab test for Parkinson’s disease - inspired by a woman who can identify it by smell (Photo: Shutterstock)
Scientists may have developed a quick and easy swab test for Parkinson’s disease - inspired by a woman who can identify it by smell (Photo: Shutterstock)

A quick and easy swab test could be all that’s needed to help diagnose Parkinson’s disease, according to UK scientists.

The breakthrough could come about partly as a result of one woman’s ability to detect the degenerative brain condition using only her sense of smell.

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Scientists say that a skin swab test could help identify the disease, by detecting certain compounds in sebum, which is the oily substance that protects our skin. In Parkinson’s patients, the concentration of these compounds within sebum is much higher than in those without the condition. Studies show that the skin swab tests are highly effective in picking this up.

What about the woman who can smell Parkinson’s?

Researchers have been working with Joy Milne, a retired nurse, who has astounded medical professionals with her ability to identify Parkinson's through what she describes as a distinct “musky” smell.

Ms Milne identified the smell on her husband, Les, some time before he was officially diagnosed with the condition.

After revealing her ability to researchers, they tested her using blinded trials and found that her diagnoses were 100 per cent accurate.

Inspired by this method of identifying Parkinson’s, scientists began using a mass-spectrometry machine to detect the compounds, and have found that this method can correctly identify those with the disease more than 80 per cent of the time.

‘An extremely encouraging step’

One of the scientists working on the project, Professor Perdita Barran, said: "We believe that our results are an extremely encouraging step towards tests that could be used to help diagnose and monitor Parkinson's.

"Not only is the test quick, simple and painless but it should also be extremely cost-effective because it uses existing technology that is already widely available.

"We are now looking to take our findings forwards to refine the test to improve accuracy even further and to take steps towards making this a test that can be used in the NHS and to develop more precise diagnostics and better treatment for this debilitating condition."