Woman who can smell Parkinson's helps scientists develop test to detect it with 95% accuracy

  1. Reminder: this subreddit is meant to be a place free of excessive cynicism, negativity and bitterness. Toxic attitudes are not welcome here.

  2. All my life I've thought I was special for being able to smell people on medicine, especially anti-biotics. And then this lady can smell Parkinson's

  3. pretty sure that 95% was 100. she smelled someone in the test who didnt have it, then 6 months later he was diagnosed.

  4. How the hell would you even find out you had that ability? It’s so incredibly specific. It’s not like you have an opportunity to refine it in random test environments

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  6. My ex could smell when people were sick. It was so uncanny that sometimes she could smell it before even you knew you had a cold.

  7. What do you even do if you have this ability? Seems like such an important and unique talent. Maybe she could try to get in touch with researchers to see if there's more to it.

  8. I've noticed a while back that there's a certain smell to me I get when I'm sick sick as opposed to struggling with allergies, but I've never tried sniffing another person to see. Something to think about I suppose.

  9. My mother and I can both do this. I remember being a kid and thinking it was normal up until I told my first girlfriend she was sick and she looked at me funny. It's literally a sickly smell, like rancid morning breath that hasn't had water for days. Though I can't smell it every single time, and at most it's about 2 maybe 3 days before the person gets sick. Busses are the absolute worst for it

  10. I don’t know what it is I’m smelling but I know 100% others can’t smell it. When I am out for a walk once every two weeks or so I will pass by someone - always a woman - who will have a scent that is so strong, unpleasant and that chokes the air like a strange poisoned cloud that wafts after her. On some occasions when I’ve been walking with others I ask if they too smelled anything when the person passed. It’s always “no”.

  11. My brother used to get nose bleeds and I could always smell them an hour or so before they happened. I can smell blood and infection. Its weird. I thought everyone could. We used to the scare the shit out of care givers and teachers.

  12. I could smell when a woman was on her period, not a bad smell, it always made me think I could smell iron. Reminded me of my grandads workshop.

  13. I am a former EMT and I can often smell that nasty bile/liver smell. It's sometimes like vomit, and sometimes diareah. Sometimes you can smell it on someone... like maybe from their skin or their ass. It's not often, but sometimes right away I can smell that someone's liver is messed up.

  14. I'm fairly sure I can smell Parkinson's but would need to test it. I've smelled it (mildly) on a few people before like an old person smell but different. It's like a smell that invades your body rather than just your nose. But what makes me think it's associated with Parkinson's is many years ago I mowed the yard for an old neighbor couple and the wife had Parkinson's. The old man had his wife handle everything she could, which was cool but took awhile. But when I got near her the smell was so overpowering that it was on the verge of triggering a gag response.

  15. But smell is the detection of molecules floating in the air and landing on special cells in our olfactory system. Those molecules come from these individuals with Parkinson's, which means there's a specific chemical reaction happening somewhere on or in their body because of the disease that results in that "offgassing". Do we not have a way to identify that chemical, ans the mechanism creating it?

  16. The only thing I could always smell was that weird sweet smell of my sister which was not even treatable with washing - her clothes always had this weird smell, and I couldn't wear my clothes anymore if she had worn them even one time. She has a rare autoimmune disease, so I always thought it was connected to that. Would like to try it out but never met anyone else with the same disease.

  17. Was she smelling their breath? I vang always tell if someone is working on an infection because their breath smells very specifically different.

  18. I have this ability as well. I can typically smell when someone has a severe type of sickness. By severe I mean like the flu. A simple cold might get past me but more intense sicknesses really stand out in terms of smell.

  19. We have sniffer dogs for drugs, eplisy and fits. And bees who only take a week compared to train). We know for a fact there are super tasters (I'm one and it can really suck) that we have tests for finding out if you are or not. We have hearing tests that show some people can hear more or less ranges than others.

  20. My husband said for months that his dad had a strange new smell. His dad tried changing the soap and laundry detergent he used, but the smell lingered. No one else could smell it. Turns out he had prostate cancer. After surgery the smell disappeared.

  21. I can smell when my girlfriend is within 3 days of her period and whether or not she’s ovulating with nearly perfect accuracy

  22. My mom is the same way! As a kid she'd be reading to me, and then just say "you smell like you're getting a cold, let me grab the Zicam" and she would always be right

  23. I swear I can smell when my husband and kids are getting sick. I’m super sensitive to smells in general. But that sick smell is like a sharp sickly sweet smell? Can normally pick it up a day or two before they start showing symptoms.

  24. My mom and I both can do this. It’s like a sweet mucus smell - and it’s gross. So it’s also hard to ignore. I can smell it on people days before they are sick. I also hate it, because it’s not something you can ignore. It’s not that I catch a wiff of it, it’s like you farted a SBD and it won’t leave the room.

  25. I’m pretty sure I can smell Parkinson’s disease. All of the family I knew who had it had a very distinguishable smell… not sure how I could test that though

  26. I can smell when people are sick too! It's like a weird musty/metallic smell. Covid had a distinct smell too in the early days, smelling it on myself was terrifying.

  27. i’ve smelt decay week before other people have, turned out a mouse crawled up under the fridge and died and it was driving me crazy for a week and I thought I was going nuts and then after about a week all of a sudden everyone else could smell it.

  28. i recall reading that she detected parkinson’s in one of the people in the control group. they thought she was in error. turned out she was right. or something like this or along w the line.

  29. That's my mic drop moment when I teach this in AP Stats on day one. There are kids who are (fairly rightly) skeptical about her not getting 100% and say they need 100% or they're not convinced...then I reveal this at the end and they lose it!

  30. Imagine being in the same room as her and she catches a whiff of something displeasing. The wait until she determined who or what it was would be unbearable!

  31. I can smell when someone is getting sick, a skill my mom has as well. For me it’s very distinctive, and can’t be confused with any other smell. I can usually tell my kids are getting sick a day or two before they show symptoms. Working in ICU was a little overwhelming, scent wise. The smell of sickness there was so intense.

  32. I can also smell when my son is sick! To a lesser extent, I can smell my husband when he is sick too. I can typically tell within a day or two that he’s coming down with something. My husband thought I was nuts the first time I brought it up and thought I was making it up haha!

  33. I think i can smell colds coming. Proximity of other people sneezing leaves behind this sweet(in a bad way) sort of smell.

  34. I also smell a sickly sweet smell before people get sick, i think its a type of bacteria. Theres a type of flower that smells exactly like it

  35. Disease does start at the mouth (old saying), you could be on to something. Probably smelling the PH in their spit, if they have a PH in there.

  36. I know what you're referring to; I can as well after people sneeze. They definitely have to be sick; the smell of a regular sneeze from nasal irritation or hayfever doesn't smell to me.

  37. I remember reading about someone similar to this lady who was actually a Parkinson’s specialist nurse. She was at a Parkinson’s conference at one point and asked why no one talks about the distinctive smell that patients have and that there seems to be no research around it. Everyone in the group was baffled. Thankfully some people took it up too

  38. That is the same woman in this article, Joy Milne. She was a nurse but not a Parkinson’s specialist, although her husband had Parkinson’s. She’s been working with scientists like Dr Tilo Kunath at the University of Edinburgh for the last ten years - if you google their names you’ll find descriptions of the t-shirt test.

  39. I think people are generally dismissive of our species sense of smell, but humans have powerful noses too. I often smell things others don't, and I think a part of that is because people don't bother to try and notice smells. Human beings are ridiculously amazingly sensitive to the smell of rain, and can often smell it from miles away.

  40. Really makes you think what kinds of things we experience in our daily lives that are completely unique to us. I remember reading about Aphantasia (the complete inability for your mind to create pictures) and hearing a similar story. I can't remember the exact details but someone was well into adulthood when someone else mentioned something like "oh, I can't get that image out of my mind!" To which the person with Aphantasia responded like "Wait, what do you mean you have an image in your mind?" How many of us have some strange quirk about our human experience we don't even know about and may never know about?

  41. We need to invest more into olfactory glands?/receptors to FINALLY develop the Smell-O-Scope! Maybe then we can get a cure for smelling gross stuff too... I get that smell is a nice sense but it's not very epic when the only things I smell are my own bodily odours :( Food never smells good to me x(

  42. Yeah. When I read this, I was thinking about how a lot of old people have a distinctive smell. And I’m not the only one who smells it. We call it “old people smell”. Maybe we are actually smelling markers for Parkinson’s which is common among old people?

  43. I sometimes smell this smell that is weird and no one else can smell. I can barely smell normal things though so uhh... I'll keep an nostril out for next time I smell it.

  44. My mom had a very peculiar smell at the end of her life, and she had Parkinson’s. When I first read about this woman I was like “of course, I believe her!”

  45. I've been saying for a while (to random strangers who are just waiting for me to order my food), we should teach smells in grade school. There are so many things you can tell about yourself just from the smell when you use the restroom (#1 AND #2, separately!).

  46. Supersmellers are basically "strong with the Force". There's a lot of things that could be theoretically detected, if they know what a smell might be.

  47. Well I have a sensitive nose and a few people I know have distinct smells that others can’t seem to agree on with me. I always thought it was BO and I am just more sensitive to them. It could also be me smelling disease 🤷🏻‍♀️

  48. [JD: Maybe you can smell it out I want to say it smells like non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. What are you doing? You don't know what any diseases smell like. Ah, to hell with it.]

  49. Love Scrubs! First person I thought of when I read this was Michael J. Fox, who of course was on the show. Parkinson's must be horrible.

  50. If I recall correctly, her late husband had Parkinson’s. She grew to recognize a distinctive smell, or more accurately, noticed a change in in the way he smelled after he developed the disease.

  51. I know it's crazy, but some humans border on the super side. Some women who have two copies of a gene (or something like that feel free to look it up) are able to see farrrrr more shades of color than a normal person. This lady can smell Parkinson's. Some people just have insane senses, and I'm willing to bet some can not be quantified easily (trust your gut has recently been looked at again as there are nerves in that area). There are people with bones that are super dense compared to normal, people who have the Hercules gene who build more muscle. It's fascinating

  52. I wonder how many of us can smell other various diseases. It would be cool if it were possible to test this on large groups of people somehow. Maybe it could lead to more news like this.

  53. When my gf came home from the ICU after she’d suffered a severe TBI (fractured her skull), I could tell her body was in overdrive and in a serious state of PANIC just based off the way she smell. Idk how to describe it, it set off my THIS IS BAD alarms just smelling it. The nurses tried to say it was just the areas where her skin had been badly injured and was just the smell of wound recovery but I knew it wasn’t because I could differentiate the “skin wound” smell they were describing. It persisted until she was well on her way into recovery, I wonder if it has to do with the hormonal disruption/changes that occur when brain functionality is altered or impeded. I feel like nobody else knew wtf I was talking about and just accused me of saying she smelled bad 😂

  54. Great article. Anyone else notice that caption on the picture said the scientist was excited but they used a picture of her either focused or frowning? Kinda funny it didn’t match.

  55. Did any of them smell like clay? I’ve noticed that smell from a couple of people and always wondered if it had any correlation to disease or illness

  56. That would have been super helpful for me when I had a crazy fast labour and delivered my son on my bathroom floor. Would have been nice if someone could have warned me in advance lol!

  57. Bro I’ve often wondered if I might be able to do something like this. I have a legit superhuman sense of smell.

  58. Same, dude. My sense of smell is insane... even when I smoked it was still very sensitive, and even moreso now that I don't again.

  59. Amazing. I have a bloodhound nose, I can tell you when someone has silently burped and what they last ate. I'm a nurse too and I can smell when someone has a UTI (though a few people can likely do that too). Wish there was a test you could do to see if you can smell diseases!! I can also smell when someone's about to die, smells like mothballs.

  60. I used to be a CNA and only certain elderly residents had a particular smell. The one thing they had in common, aside from demographic, is that they all had alzheimers disease....and now I'm wondering if I overlooked something critical. I thought that it had something to do with meds that they likely had in common, or something. I worked with dementia and healthier residents also, but they just had standard, old people smell. I don't know how to describe it. It sort of reminded me of sweaty metal.

  61. My husband smells like sweaty metal, and his cognitive abilities seem to be lapsing lately. When I was in college, I could smell a charred capacitor across the electronics lab before anyone knew what was going on. On the whole, my sense of smell is notoriously sensitive. I wonder if I should insist that he get checked out….

  62. We went hiking in a remote area for a week. On the way out we could smell the “new hikers” coming down the trail, long before we could see or hear them. We have a lot of scents on us from laundry, soap, shaving cream, sunscreen. We would try to guess how many people in the group by the intensity of their smell.

  63. How do some people develop the ability to smell diseases? Or is this a rare genetic trait like smelling ants?

  64. Genetic, her grandmother had the same heightened sense of smell. They think she might be wired slightly different to normal people, her words not mine. She was on Virgin Radio this morning, hopefully they will publish the telephone call they had with her on their instagram or youtube channel.

  65. Three of my coworkers smelled bad but nobody else seemed to notice. Three years later two were dead from lymphoma. The third one survived with treatment. I'm betting this is a lot more common than people realize.

  66. There's people out here who can smell wine and tell you every ingredient, but it's hard to believe people can smell sicknesses? I'm not sure this is as uncommon as you might even think.

  67. Imagine just casually walking down the street and some older lady starts oddly sniffing in your direction and then proceeds to tell you to go get checked for parkinsons

  68. My partner's skin had a strange almost smokey like faint smell along with normal skin smells when I put my face against her neck or back. Also our friends' dog took a lot more interest in sniffing her than others. This smell was present for quite a while, years maybe and I just thought that was how she smelled.

  69. There was a post here on Reddit a few years back and some people commented that they could smell it on advanced Parkinson patients, and they all described the smell similarly.

  70. All my life I've been telling people I can smell snakes and everyone tells me I'm crazy and they smell nothing.

  71. I would assume this is more common, but I've been able to smell when someone is incredibly sick. Had a friend who got a dangerous strain of mono and he smelled horrible, but not like a cover your nose kind, just stay away. I smelled it two other times, one I walked past someone and another in a small store. The third time my boyfriend could also smell it through a facemask and it just filled us both with this incredible dread, that we needed to leave NOW. No one else in this store seemed phased.

  72. I can smell when other women are on their periods. It drives me absolutely nuts. Some women who have stronger scents I assume have a heavier flow. I never told anyone this until recently only to find out that I had a smell twin. I mentioned it to a friend who told me that their other friend, who I've casually met, had the exact same issue. We've since compared notes and talk about our scent sensitivity.

  73. I wonder how many other people have abilities such as this but are never in the required situation to find out.

  74. Interesting, my Dad was able to tell if someone was pregnant before even they knew sometimes, but more specifically if they were going to have a boy it made him really nauseous to be around them. I was always skeptical of course, but this makes me wonder if there was something he could detect that your average person can't.

  75. I wonder how many of us just have like these incredible abnormalities in our genetics that just happen to give us what is basically a dollar store super power

  76. I am a nurse. I definitely notice certain types of dementia patients have a very similar scent. I am going to start paying attention to this now haha

  77. I have something similar but I have no idea what it is that I am actually smelling, its a very distinctive smell coming from some people when they talk, its extremely strong and unpleasant, at first I thought it was bad breath but then I realised that I am the only one noticing it and bad breath has a completely different smell, not to mention never this intense.

  78. Wait what. Is that not common? I thought everyone could smell that - asparagus makes your pee absolutely reeeeeeek for 24 hours.

  79. I have read about her before too, but the news is that this is the first time anyone has gone on to develop a test for Parkinson's.

  80. Good for her, the unique thing i can smell that nobody in my circle can is only the smell of ant and cockroach. Idk how useful or unique that is

  81. I can picture her getting into an elevator full of people , leaving at the first floor, turning to them and saying: "one of you needs to visit the oncologist soon".

  82. Most of the Infectious disease docs I know can smell MRSA. Most nurse that have been around a while can smell C-Diff pretty decently

  83. I have a very strong sense of smell and I can smell quite a lot of things other people apparently can't. For example, I can smell when people are on their period (not always) and I could always smell when my dog had been to my grandma's house. I once couldn't stand to keep dating someone because they smelled like balloons.

  84. Her husband got parkinson's, after she'd noticed the smell for years, and she went with him to a support group and noticed the same smell. So, a pretty specific set of circumstances -- likely a significant quantity of people would be able to differentiate the smell if they were able to make the connection. Biology is fascinating.

  85. So in the old scriptures she was either a medicine woman or a witch. Imagine how many people had this kind of ability but were to afraid say anything. I think we would be a lot further in our research.

  86. This whole thing gives me chills! Just the fact a human has this ability is mind blowing for me. Cannot fathom how this occurs or the ability comes to be...but WOW

  87. I can sometimes smell this musty pepper smell from some people. Mostly Caucasian. Not sure if that's just how they smell. I can also tell when someone has eaten asparagus when I get a whiff of a urinal.

  88. How is the accuracy measured? If we use a test sample of 100 people and only 5 people have parkinson yet our method detected that 100% of people didn't have it, then that is also 95% accurate

  89. it's an interesting story, but whether it can do better than any of the many existing tests for early disease is unclear.

  90. If I understood it correctly, there are no current chemical tests for Parkinson's, only neurological ones. This would be the first simple test able to be easily administered by a GP.

  91. If what the article claims is true - that it can detect Parkinson's simply by changes in the chemical composition of sebum in 3 minutes with 95% accuracy - then it is a revolution in Parkinson's diagnosis. Additionally, an early diagnosis - the lady claimed to be able to smell the sebum changes more than a decade before her husband was diagnosed - can allow a patient to avoid some complications that would reduce their lifespan further.

  92. Is this a kind of synesthesia? Or is it more like an unusual sensory enhancement? Also, if it is accepted that there is an odour associated with a disease, would that not mean it's possible to create a device that can detect whatever chemical compound is creating the odour to be used as a health screening tool?

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