New Parkinson's study something to sniff at — please

James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

Ilja Gort could be dethroned soon, and it may be good for untold number of seniors and other disease victims. In fact, the vineyard owner would probably be glad to cede his title.

Gort has the world's “Most Valuable Nose,” according to the "Guinness World Records 2015" book. It reports that the winemaker has his nose insured for 5 million Euro (about $5.5 million) by Lloyd's of London.

Wine is fine, but noses could have even more value in medicine. Take the case of Joy Milne.

The 65-year-old Englishwoman works at Parkinson's UK, which is named after the disease that claimed her husband's life in June. Milne said she could discern a subtle change in her husband's body odor (to a “musky” smell) six years before he was diagnosed with Parkinson's.

While working at Parkinson's UK, she says she then realized she could detect the same scent from others who had the disease. Once scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester heard her claim, they sprang to action.

In a pilot study, Milne was given 12 used T-shirts to smell, six from people with Parkinson's and six from those without the disease. The researchers said she was correct in 11 of 12 cases, despite her insistence she was right on all of them.

Eight months later, the 12th person was, in fact, diagnosed with Parkinson's.

Scientists are working to learn whether Parkinson's inflicts chemical changes in a glandular oil, sebum, which is secreted by the sebaceous glands.

Skin swabs from about 200 people (some with Parkinson's, some without) will be checked by people with a finely attuned sense of smell. (Here's hoping they hire Gort as one of the expert sniffers). The smellers will do their thing with the samples, and researchers will, too. The latter will try to discover if anything in the sebum's molecular makeup might trigger an odor change in people with Parkinson's.

The implications of a possible treatment breakthrough could be stunning. As many as 1 million people in just the United States are living with Parkinson's, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. There are about 60,000 newly diagnosed each year, with many others undetected. Worldwide, up to 10 million people have PD. It is estimated 95% or more of them are over the age of 50.

The costs associated with the disease are huge. They're estimated at nearly $25 billion per year in the United States alone.

Arthur Roach, director of research at Parkinson's UK, acknowledges research is in an “early” stage but he's hopeful odor changes can be confirmed. There is currently no test that can detect pre-emergent Parkinson's, nor any drug that can stop, or even slow, the disease.

If Milne's nose can lead to new drugs or other treatments, she will have easily earned the title of “World's' Most Valuable Nose.”

If it happens, it would be poetic if they toasted it with a bottle of one of Gort's finest wines.

Evans does it his way — and bags Sinatra victory

In honor of the upcoming 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra's birthday, the cats at Tallgrass Creek continuing care retirement community in Overland Park, KS, held a look-alike contest recently. (You might recall an earlier post in this space praising the Erickson gang for getting out ahead and planning parties for the Dec. 12 milestone.)

Winning the right to be the honorary “Chairman of the Board” of Kansas was Max Evans (center at left), a former farm manager and agricultural appraiser. He and the four other participants each received a bottle of bourbon (Sinatra's favorite drink) and an ample supply of Tootsie Rolls (Sinatra's favorite candy). 

The competitors pictured here include: George Lund, Lynn Brown, Evans, Dave Thomson and Jim Graham

The contest was held in conjunction with a Kansas University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute presentation “Sinatra: The Man and His Music,” which was attended by more than 100 people.


James M. Berklan is Editor at McKnight's. Follow him @JimBerklan.


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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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