Bringing Joy to Parkinson’s research

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Today’s post was a joy to write.

It is one of those stories that will ultimately become the stuff of legend. And other areas of medical research will come to envy the fact that they don’t have a similar compelling tale. It is such a fascinating story that one feels fortunate to be a researcher living through the period of time during which it is actually unfolding.

The background of the narrative is really simple: A lady in an audience made a wonderous association, and then had the courage to publicly ask an odd question (“Why do people with Parkinson’s smell different?“). An intrepid researcher then had the curiosity to follow up on that question, and the resulting findings have opened up amazing new opportunities for us.

Recently researchers in Manchester (and their collaborators) have published a series of updates on their research exploring the “smell of Parkinson’s” 

In today’s post, we will discuss what they have found and how their research could potentially affect our understanding of and approach to Parkinson’s.

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Dr Les Milne. Source: BBC

Dr Les Milne was a consultant anaesthesiologist at Macclesfield in Cheshire for 25 years.

He was one of the first medical directors in the Mersey region, at one point having five departments under his management. Instrumental in changing the training of theatre operating assistants in the hospital, Les was known for giving up his own time to provide extra training to trainees to help them get their qualifications. His was an impressive career.

It is said that beside every great man, there is a great woman, and Les met his when he was 17.

Her name was Joy:

Joy Milne. Source: Telegraph

When Les was 31 year old, he came home one evening, and Joy noticed something different about him.

Specifically, he smelled different.

His lovely male musk smell had got this overpowering sort of nasty yeast smell,” she says (Source).

It was a “sort of woody, musky odour” Joy suggests, and she “started suggesting tactfully to him that he wasn’t showering enough or cleaning his teeth. He clearly didn’t smell it and was quite adamant that he was washing properly.” (Source).

Joy, who had trained as a nurse, let the matter go, but as we shall see this simple observation was to have important ramifications.

What happened?

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