Currently Parkinson’s disease can only be diagnosed after a neurological consultation, which leaves patients waiting months—or years—after the onset of symptoms for treatment to begin. For sufferers of Parkinson’s disease an early diagnosis leads to significantly better outcomes in treatment and quality of life. Now, one woman’s unique talent has led to a scientific breakthrough for earlier diagnosis of the disease.

When Joy Milne’s husband was diagnosed with an advanced case of Parkinson’s disease it prompted the pair to recall when, twelve years earlier, Joy had noted that her husband Les’s scent had abruptly changed. The two joined support groups and Joy recognised the same distinctive musty smell on other sufferers.

Joy worked with a group of scientists to uncover the link between this smell and the disease. As part of a test, Joy was asked to identify which shirts had been worn by Parkinson’s patients and which had not. She only made one error, misidentifying one of the control group’s shirts for that of a patient—until eight months later when that person also received a Parkinson’s diagnosis.

Now, a team at the University of Manchester has developed a skin-swab test that is 95% accurate at identifying Parkinson’s disease. And there is hope that within the next two years the test will be taken outside of laboratory conditions and start to be used as a diagnostic tool, a change that will undoubtably speed up the diagnostic process and allow patients to pursue treatment much earlier.

If you’re interested in learning more about recent research on Parkinson’s disease, visit Griffith Research Online to read scholarly publications by Griffith researchers.