Super smeller reveals smells associated with alzheimer’s, liver disease and cancer – Daily Mail

Super smeller reveals smells associated with alzheimer’s, liver disease and cancer – Daily Mail

A ‘super smeller’ who sniffed out her husband’s Parkinson’s a decade before it was diagnosed has revealed the tell-tale scents associated with other diseases. 

Former nurse Joy Milne, of Glasgow, told how she noticed her husband Les was smelling differently when he was still in his 30s, describing the scent as a ‘woody, musky odour’. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 12 years later, in 1985.  

Tests performed since suggest Joy’s nose is so sensitive that she is able to pick up the smell of sebum – oil secreted by the skin – that is known to be produced by Parkinson’s patients. 

Speaking on This Morning today, Joy, now in her late 60s, explained Parkinson’s is not the only disease with a distinct scent. 

She suggested tuberculosis smelled of brine, while cancer has an ‘earthy’ scent. Alzheimer’s smells ‘sweet’, but liver disease produces a ‘strong smell of bile’. 

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Former nurse Joy Milne, of Glasgow, told how she noticed her husband Les was smelling differently more than a decade before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Speaking on This Morning today (pictured), she revealed the scents she’s associated with other illnesses 

Joy has previously told how she first became aware of her unique talent aged 21, when she mentioned the smell of liver cancer to a ward sister while working as a student nurse in a hospital. 

The observation was dismissed and she didn’t mention the idea again until Les’s diagnosis. 

Speaking on her early observations, Joy said on This Morning: ‘I was able to tell from the beginning. It was sebum from the forehead, through the hair and down the back of the neck, and it is an increasing smell in people with Parkinson’s.’

She continued: ‘It started with my husband. I noticed a different smell of him. He didn’t like perfumes or deodorants, he just had a nice musky smell of a male, but then I smelt this dank, heavy musk, which wasn’t nice. 

Joy, pictured on This Morning, suggested tuberculosis smelled of brine, while cancer has an ‘earthy’ scent. Alzheimer’s smells ‘sweet’, but liver disease produces a ‘strong smell of bile’

‘We went to our first Parkinson’s meeting.  After I said to him: “I think you should sit down.”  I said to him “Those people smell like you.”‘ 

‘He had lost his sense of smell before I started smelling him.’

‘You don’t go around asking people how they smell. I wasn’t aware it was as heightened as it is. I realise that now.’

Doctor Chris added: ‘Sebum is the oil in the skin, and people with Parkinson’s secrete a certain amount. So you can detect that.’

Joy’s sense of smell has since been used to help scientists identify Parkinson’s biomarkers that could lead to a new diagnostic test. 

The grandmother’s nose was also used during a visit to Tanzania, when she met with people battling tuberculosis. 

She continued: ‘I picked off the first swab a smell of brine and wet cardboard smell.’

Meanwhile in California she ‘helped out a friend’ in commenting on the potential scents associated with cancer. 

Joy’s late husband Les (right) was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1985, but 12 years earlier Joy noticed a change in his scent, which alerted her to his illness

How Joy’s nose helped scientists find what causes the ‘Parkinson’s’ odour  

In a new study by The University of Manchester, the grandmother and former nurse successfully separated those with and without the neurological condition based on the scent of oils wiped from their backs. 

The researchers hope their study will lead to a non-invasive test that diagnoses Parkinson’s early – doctors are currently being forced to rely on symptoms alone.

The first of its kind research was led by Dr Perdita Barran, a professor of mass spectrometry.

Dr Barran led research several years ago which revealed Mrs Milne could detect ‘Parkinson’s odour’ when sebum – the waxy oil that keeps skin moisturised – is collected from a patient’s back but not when it comes from their armpits.

In the more recent study, the researchers therefore collected sebum from the upper backs of 43 Parkinson’s patients and 21 controls.

Excessive sebum production is a symptom of Parkinson’s, with sufferers also having higher levels of the protein α-synuclein in their skin.

Scent-causing compounds were extracted from these sebum samples and heated to ‘encourage the production of volatiles’.

Mrs Milne then set about sniffing the samples via an ‘odour port’.

Results published in the journal ACS Central Science revealed the Super Smeller detected a characteristic musky smell in those with Parkinson’s. 

Around one in every 350 adults in the UK are diagnosed with Parkinson’s, according to Parkinson’s UK.

And more than 10million people are living with the disease in the US, Parkinson’s Foundation statistics reveal.

‘Dogs have been detecting cancer for years,’ she said. ‘It definitely has a smell. It’s an earthy smell. I have linked it with something, but I can’t discuss that.’

Joy went on to claim Alzheimer’s smells ‘sweet’ and fairly pleasant at first, but it soon turns into a ‘nasty’ fragrance. 

She went on: ‘It’s a vanilla smell. It starts smelling sweet and then it turns quite nasty. A neurological dank and musky smell.’

Meanwhile ‘liver disease you get that really strong smell of bile,’ she noted. Doctor Chris agreed: ‘It smells almost fecal.’

Presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby were impressed with Joy’s skill, but she insisted it is a huge ‘responsibility’. She also added it cannot be used in diagnosis. 

Parkinson’s disease is incurable, and Phillip asked his guests if it was ‘any good’ knowing someone had the condition in advance. 

Doctor Chris replied: ‘You are not going to cure it.  But if you are aware this is the way your body is going, you can delay the deterioration and in that time you can improve your quality of life.’    

Joy has claimed people suffering with Parkinson’s disease smell of sebum, which Doctor Chris confirmed as he revealed people with the condition produce a lot more sweat.  

Presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby were impressed with Joy’s skill, but she insisted it is a huge ‘responsibility’. Pictured, the trio with Dr Chris on This Morning today


Mrs Milne noticed a ‘musky, greasy sort of odour’ in her husband Les (pictured). He was diagnosed a decade later and died in 2015 aged 65

Joy and Les Milne were childhood sweethearts who started dating at just 16.

When they reached their mid-30s, Mrs Milne – then a nurse – noticed a change in her husband’s odour.

‘He began to smell unpleasant to me and although we always were a loving couple, I was always aware of it,’ she said.

Mrs Milne described it as ‘musky, greasy sort of odour’, and would nag her husband to shower and brush his teeth more.

It was a decade later, at the age of 45, that Mr Milne was finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s after battling the tell-tale tremors, as well as fatigue and impotence.

Around the time of his diagnosis, Mr Milne’s personality changed, with the once gentle doctor lashing out at his wife on two occasions, once bruising her face. 

‘As it was happening, his eyes looked blank, like he had no idea what he was doing,’ Mrs Milne said. 

Over the next 20 years, the former swimmer and water-polo player became dependent on a walking frame.

He was even forced to retire from his job as a consultant anaesthetist due to his tremors and reduced concentration. 

The couple (pictured on their wedding day) started dating at just 16 years old

In 2005, the couple moved back from Cheshire to their native Perth, Scotland, where Mrs Milne made the connection between Parkinson’s and her husband’s odour while accompanying him to a support group.

‘After we left I said to Les: ‘The people with Parkinson’s in that room smelt the same as you’,’ Mrs Milne said.

In 2010 she contacted the Parkinson’s researcher Tilo Kunath, of Edinburgh University, who put her skills to the test a year later.

After asking 12 volunteers to wear a T-shirt for 24 hours, Mrs Milne correctly identified the disease status of 11 of them – with the only one she got wrong being diagnosed the following year.

Shortly after, Mr Milne lost his battle with Parkinson’s in 2015 aged 65. 

Mrs Milne has since been keeping to her husband’s dying wish of assisting research into the ‘smell of Parkinson’s.

But Parkinson’s is not the only disease Mrs Milne can detect.

As a student nurse, she claims spotted those with gallstones before they were diagnosed.

And while training as a midwife, she could tell whether a woman smoked or had diabetes by the scent of her placenta. 


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