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The Smell Test

A woman who noticed a change in her husband's scent years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease is now helping researchers figure what it is that she might have caught a whiff of to develop a diagnostic, NPR reports.

It adds that the woman, Joy Milne, detected the change to a yeastier smell when her husband was 31 years old and often begged him to shower, and that after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at 45 years old and they attended a support group, she found all the affected people there had the same smell to her nose. 

According to NPR, this eventually caught the attention of the University of Edinburgh's Tilo Kunath who first tested Milne's ability — finding it fairly accurate — and then sought to determine what it is that she smells. Last year, Kunath, Milne, and others published a paper listing compounds that might contribute to this scent. NPR adds that these could be used to develop a tool to detect Parkinson's disease early on.

"This idea of an olfactory biomarker is fascinating," Thomas Hummel from the Technical University of Dresden's Smell & Taste Clinic tells NPR. He adds, though, that there are "numerous open questions."