New conference to establish roadmap for treatment-focused research on smell and taste disorders

The Monell Center, in partnership with the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste and the Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, will host an interdisciplinary two-day conference in November 2018 to establish a roadmap for treatment-focused research on smell and taste disorders. The groundbreaking meeting, entitled Identifying Treatments for Taste and Smell Disorders, will include sessions focused on the science of sensory disorders and their treatment and also on patient education.

Smell and taste disorders, including anosmia – complete loss of the sense of smell -- occur in more than 12 percent people worldwide. These 'invisible' disorders affect patients' quality of life and health due to the inability to appreciate food flavor, detect environmental hazards, or fully engage with social networks and surroundings.

Causes of taste and smell dysfunction include receptor or nerve damage from viral infections such as the common cold, head trauma, cancer treatments including radiation therapy, and inborn genetic disorders. Although anyone can be affected, these conditions remain under-recognized.

"There currently are tenfold more research studies and federal research projects on the regeneration of hearing and vision than for taste and smell. Our goal is to learn about fruitful therapeutic approaches being pursued in other sensory systems to stimulate new patient-oriented research in taste and smell disorders," said Monell Center olfactory neurobiologist Joel Mainland, PhD.

When healthy, the sensory cells that respond to taste and smell molecules renew frequently during a person's lifetime. Despite this remarkable quality, there currently are few or no evidence-based treatment options available to patients when these senses are damaged or lost.

"Understanding how disease and therapies disrupt taste and smell at the cellular level is crucial to devising treatments to ameliorate or prevent taste and smell loss" said Linda Barlow, PhD, Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and member of the Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center, University of Colorado School of Medicine.

The Identifying Treatments for Taste and Smell Disorders conference will for the first time bring together scientists developing gene therapy and stem cell treatments in the auditory, visual, and dermatological fields with leading smell and taste researchers and clinicians to exchange research ideas and strategies. The outcome will seed a group consensus statement on directions for treatment-focused research for smell and taste disorders.

A second aim of the conference is to educate patients and the clinicians who provide care for them about the science and clinical practice related to these disorders. During a patient-focused session on the second day of the conference, a summary talk will explain the previous scientific presentations in non-technical terms, enabling patients to understand the research, ask questions and receive clear answers.

Patients are invited to present their stories during the same session. These five-minute presentations will inform scientists and clinicians about the many forms taste and smell disorders can take and about their impact on quality of life. Additional talks from patient advocates and clinicians will educate patients about currently available resources.

"This conference will contribute significantly to our efforts to educate and engage patients with smell or taste disorders. By partnering with Monell and the CU School of Medicine's Rocky Mountain Taste and Smell Center, we can leverage the expertise of the three major National Institutes of Health-supported research centers for the study of smell and taste to facilitate the exchange of ideas and build new collaborations with both scientists and patients," said Steven Munger, PhD, Director of the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste.

The Identifying Treatments for Taste and Smell Disorders conference is being organized by Barlow, Mainland, and Munger. Also on the organizing committee are Danielle Reed, PhD, Associate Director of Monell, otolaryngologist Edmund Pribitkin, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, and patient advocate Christine Kelly, who runs the site smelltraining.co.uk.

To promote scientific training opportunities in taste and smell disorders, graduate students and postdocs are invited to attend and submit abstracts for five-minute talks. There is no charge for scientific or patient registration. The conference has a strong commitment to inclusion and will offer four minority domestic travel scholarships.

The conference, which will be held in Philadelphia on November 14-15, 2018, is funded through a grant (R13 DC017387) from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders of the National Institutes of Health. Additional funding is being supplied by Kerry.

Visit the conference website at http://www.ittsd2018.org for details on the program, to submit a patient or student abstract, and to register to attend.​

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