A man and a woman standing next to each other, wearing Parkinsons UK tshirts.

Scientists are close to establishing what causes a smell associated with sufferers of Parkinson's disease after a woman from Scotland discovered she has the amazing ability to smell the disease.

Joy Milne, from Perth, began to notice an unusual “musky” smell around her husband about a decade before he was diagnosed with the disease at age 45. Joy, a retired nurse, only linked the odour to the disease after meeting people with the same distinctive smell at a Parkinson's UK support group.

Currently there is no definitive test for the disease, with clinicians diagnosing patients by observing symptoms.

After mentioning her unusual ability to scientists at a conference, Edinburgh University decided to test her - and she was very accurate. Joy was given 12 unmarked T-shirts to smell - six worn by Parkinson's patients and six worn by volunteers without the disease. She correctly identified the six worn by Parkinson's patients, but could also smell the odour on a T-shirt worn by someone in the control group without Parkinson's.

Joy was told three months later that this person had in fact been diagnosed with Parkinson's after the T-shirt tests.

Impressed, scientists started to dig deeper into the phenomenon. A team from Manchester has found distinctive molecules that seem to be concentrated on the skin of Parkinson's patients.

Prof Perdita Barran, an expert in chemical analysis from Manchester University said:

“This breakthrough would not have happened without Joy. It was Joy who was absolutely convinced that what she could smell would be something that could be used in a clinical context and so now we are beginning to do that".

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