2019 Tom Isaacs Award honors scientist developing a smell test for Parkinson’s

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (August 22, 2019) — Van Andel Institute (VAI) and The Cure Parkinson’s Trust are thrilled to announce Tilo Kunath, Ph.D., of University of Edinburgh as the recipient of the 2019 Tom Isaacs Award, which honors individuals who have had a significant impact on the lives of people with Parkinson’s and/or involved them in a participatory way in research.

Kunath recently made headlines for his work with advocate Dr. Joy Milne and her ability to detect Parkinson’s disease by scent. Milne noticed her late husband’s scent changed around 12 years before his diagnosis with Parkinson’s. Later, while at a research meeting with many people with Parkinson’s in attendance, she noticed many of them carried a similar scent. She reported this to Kunath, who pursued this idea further and has since worked alongside Milne, Perdita Barran, Ph.D., of the University of Manchester and a team of researchers to isolate several substances in the skin that signal Parkinson’s, opening potential new avenues for earlier diagnosis and, hopefully one day, therapeutic intervention.

Kunath’s empathy, enthusiastic engagement with the Parkinson’s community and willingness to share his knowledge were central to his nomination and subsequent selection as the 2019 honoree. The award was announced today during the annual Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and Rallying to the Challenge meeting at Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids. Milne simultaneously presented the award to Kunath in Edinburgh.

The Tom Isaacs Award was established in 2017 in memory of Trust co-founder and champion of the Parkinson’s community Tom Isaacs. Since 2014, VAI and The Cure Parkinson’s Trust have collaborated on Linked Clinical Trials, an initiative to investigate medications designed for other diseases as potential therapies for Parkinson’s disease.


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent nonprofit biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premier research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 400 scientists, educators and staff. VAI’s research division is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translating those findings into effective therapies. The Institute’s scientists work in onsite laboratories and participate in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Learn more about Van Andel Institute at vai.org.

The Cure Parkinson’s Trust (CPT) is a leading Parkinson’s medical research charity totally committed to slowing, stopping and reversing the condition and ultimately improving the lives of those affected by the disease. Learn more at www.cureparkinsons.org.uk. The Cure Parkinson’s Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales (1111816) and Scotland (SCO44368).