A WOMAN''s incredible sense of smell could be key to developing new ways to spot Parkinson's disease after she was revealed to be able to identify the condition through odour alone.

Joy Milne stunned scientists when tests proved she could sniff out sufferers just be examining clothes they had worn, and researchers have now embarked on a £50,000 project to find out if this could lead to better ways to spot, treat and monitor the disease.

Mrs Milne, of Perth, became accustomed to the disease when after her husband Les contracted Parkinson's 20 years ago, and soon realised that it had changed his scent.

But it was only when she discussed the phenomenon with a researcher that it became apparent her ability as a "super-smeller" could herald a medical breakthrough.

Parkinson's, degenerative neurological condition which causes people to suffer uncontrolled tremors and muscle rigidity, is difficult to diagnose as there is no lab test which can identify the disease. There is no cure.

However, it is suspected that the condition may bring about a change in the chemical make-up of an oily substance in the skin known as sebum, and it is possible that Joy is one of a few people with a sense of smell strong enough to notice.

She said: “I’ve always had a keen sense of smell and I detected very early on that there was a very subtle change in how Les smelled. It’s hard to describe but it was a heavy, slightly musky aroma. I had no idea that this was unusual and hadn’t been recognised before.

“For Les, the destructive nature of his Parkinson’s meant that he soon struggled with some simple things, like playing a game of darts with his family. Previously he was a good darts player, but as the condition progressed he would find that he would drop the dart as it left his hand.

“It is exciting to think that the research has the potential to provide a diagnosis test for Parkinson’s and it would be marvellous if it could bring us closer to a cure.”

The 65-year-old raised the issue of smelling Parkinson's during a lecture given by the charity Parkinson's UK, and later told speaker Dr Tilo Kunath about her experience with her husband's illness.

He was intrigued enough to explore the issue and helped run tests using T-shirts slept Parkinson's sufferers, which confirmed Joy was able to distinguish the scent.

Dr Kunath, of the University of Edinburgh, said: "It was quite incredible. We tested her with clothes worn by sufferers and she was able to identify them without fail. If someone with Parkinson;s comes up behind her she will know. It's almost like a super-power.

"At first we thought it could be down to something in Parkinson sufferer's sweat, so we tested that. But Joy said that the scent came from the collar area of her husband's shirts, not the armpit.

"So I began to read up on sebum, which is produced in that region and on the forehead, and Parkinson's literature was full of mentions until the 1950s when studying it seemed to drop out of fashion."

Parkinson’s UK is now funding researchers at Manchester, Edinburgh and London to study around 200 people with and without Parkinson’s in they hope they can confirm findings from a smaller pilot study.

If the research confirms that molecular changes occur within sebum at the onset of Parkinson's, then it could lead to the disease being diagnosed through something as simple as a swab test, and also guide sufferers' medication.

Professor Perdita Barran, who is leading the research, said: “The sampling of the skin surface will provide a rich source of metabolites which we can mine to distinguish healthy patients from those in the early stages of Parkinson’s.

"We are excited to embark on this biomarker discovery project. It is hoped that these results could lead to the development of a non-invasive diagnostic test that may have the ability to diagnose early Parkinson’s, possibly even before physical symptoms occur.”