She Who Smelt it, Dealt it

She who smelt it, dealt it- except in this case. Did you know that there is a known case of someone being able to smell and accurately identify a disease sometimes before it's even medically diagnosed? Yes, you read that correctly and in case you didn't know, a woman who can smell disease, specifically she is able to correctly identify patients who have Parkinson’s via smell.  As bizarre as this sounds, it is true and has inspired research concerning whether or not we can identify the presence of a disease through smell. Who is she, you may ask? Joy Milne of Scotland first sensed she could detect Parkinson's when she noticed a change in how her husband smelled prior to his medical diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. Of course, years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The crazy part of this story is that Joy reported that she noticed the change in her husband's smell years before her husband developed any physical symptoms and thus had a medical diagnosis. This means that there is a possibility to diagnose Parkinson's earlier than is currently available.

Let’s back up a little bit- it may help to know that Joy Milne's skill was "scientifically tested" and showed that she is 100% accurate in her diagnoses. So, how did academia find out about Joy Milne? The road to scientifically testing began with Joy Milne attending a Parkinson’s event in the UK. She revealed during a Q&A that she was able to smell Parkinson’s, and of course, that claim caught the attention of researchers- because you know, what if it’s true? So, researcher Dr. Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh went out on a limb and decided it was worth it to investigate Joy  Milne's claim. Dr. Kunath’s initial findings  showed that Joy was not lying and could in fact smell Parkinson's. This of course led to research to explore whether Parkinson’s had its own aroma. Dr Tilo Kunath, a Parkinson's UK fellow at the school of biological sciences at Edinburgh University, was one of the first scientists Joy spoke to.

You may have noticed that the first time "scientifically tested" was mentioned that there were quotes around it and the following is why. The first time Joy was tested, 12 people were recruited, six people with Parkinson's and six without. She was given shirts worn by all 12 people and correctly identified all six of the persons with Parkinson’s and insisted that one of the people in the control group had it as well. Initially, this was viewed as an 11 out of 12 accuracy. The strange thing is that 8 months later, the person from the control group was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Of course, a sample size of 12 doesn't have much statistical power so the findings were likely not significant in a statistical sense, but it's still shocking considering that for each person there is a 50% chance of her being correct which leads to a less than 1% chance of Joy Milne being able to guess Parkinson's status of each person with 100% accuracy. So, does Parkinson’s disease have a smell? As of right now, we are still unsure, but we know one thing for certain- we are able to pick stocks with our “sense of smell (bands)” just as well as Joy can sniff out Parkinson’s. Sounds good, right?