A link between a specific odour and Parkinson's disease (PD) was first determined by a Scottish lady Joy Milne, whose incredibly keen sense of smell picked up a change in her late husband's scent six years before he went on to develop any symptom of the disease.

Her skills were then tested under lab conditions when she was asked to smell six used shirts from six people with PD and six people in the control group. She stated that seven of those 12 individuals had the specific “musky smell” and she was correct, as one of the control group later went on to develop Parkinson’s.

Now, three dogs will begin trials, sniffing the smell of 700 people to focus on the molecules people release before developing Parkinson’s.

The 'pooch/human' team is a partnership between Manchester University and the research charity Medical Detection Dogs. Together the team will set about identifying the “smell of Parkinson’s” by determining the samples, then using a mass spectrometer to identify the molecules particular to people with PD. Each molecule will then be given to the dogs to smell, enabling the team to seek out the perpetrator molecules.

CPT Researcher Dr Tilo Kunath whose work is involved with i. understanding how alpha-synuclein causes degeneration of neurons in PD and ii. is producing a cell-based therapy for Parkinson’s, commented:

This work fits into the biomarker efforts for early and accurate detection/diagnosis of PD. The skin will become more and more important for PD diagnosis. There are many papers out there now that show alpha-synuclein pathology in skin nerves. And this will be key for delivering PD-preventative drugs once they are discovered and validated.

Determining a suitable and easy method of a faster and more accurate way of detecting Parkinson's in its very early stages will it is hoped help to make diagnoses and early treatment possible, before physical symptoms have presented themselves.

See also Alpha-synuclein, Vaccine for Parkinson's.