Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Smell and Taste Center

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The Smell and Taste Center

The University of Pennsylvania Smell and Taste Center was founded in 1980 as the first NIH-funded Clinical Research Center in the United States devoted to the senses of taste and smell, and has achieved worldwide prominence for both its research and clinical activities.

The ability to taste and smell is critical for the survival of most organisms and plays a key role in their nutrition and social behavior.  In humans, these senses determine the flavor and palatability of foods and beverages and serve as an early warning system for the detection of toxic vapors, fire, and spoiled foodstuffs.  Indeed, decreased smell function is one of the reasons why elderly persons succumb more often to accidental natural gas poisoning and why they frequently complain that food lacks flavor.  In a comprehensive study of 750 consecutive patients evaluated at the Center, 68% viewed their dysfunction as affecting their quality of life, 56% noted that the problem altered their daily living and/or psychological well-being, and 46% reported that the problem changed either their body weight or appetite.

It is now well established that the sense of smell is altered in a number of neurological disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, head trauma, Korsakoff's psychosis, Huntington's disease, schizophrenia, and Parkinson's disease.  Despite these findings, the chemical senses have received, until recently, comparatively little attention on the part of scientists and physicians.  In response to this need, the University of Pennsylvania Smell and Taste Center was founded.

The Center has three primary goals: first, to provide clinical evaluation, treatment, and counseling for patients experiencing chemosensory deficits; second, to provide facilities for an intellectual focus for research in basic and applied aspects of chemosensation; and third, to provide training for students, doctoral level scientists, and others interested in chemoreception science.

The Core Facility of the Center is strategically located in the Ravdin Institute of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. This convenient location provides close associations with numerous departments, including the Departments of Maxillary and Oral Facial Surgery, Neurosurgery, and Otorhinolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. This facility houses the administrative offices of the Center, traditional testing and stimulus preparation rooms, two human air dilution olfactometers and the Hoffman controlled environment room. The olfactometers provide highly accurate measurements of odorant stimuli used in human chemosensory studies, and allow for the electrophysiological measurement of odor evoked potentials. Other major equipment housed in the Core facility includes computerized acoustic and anterior rhinometric measurement systems, a multichannel polygraph, a unique regional automated taste testing system, and over a dozen microcomputers used for on-line collection, analysis, and presentation of patient data.

The Core Facility manages the Center’s numerous databases, such as the Smell and Taste Center patient database. The latter contains over 400 items of information on approximately 5000 patients who have visited the Center, and makes it possible to follow up patients over time to obtain information on the course of their problem and the efficacy of treatments.

For more information, please contact:

Crystal Wylie, Patient Coordinator
Smell and Taste Center
Hospital of University of Pennsylvania
3400 Spruce Street, 5 Ravdin
Philadelphia, PA 19104-4283
Phone: (215) 662-2797
Fax: (215) 349-5266

Email for general inquiries or to set up an appointment.

Clinic for Smell and Taste Disorders

Two to three times per month, we hold full day appointments for those who are suffering from smell or taste disorders and wish to be tested and evaluated.  Please go to the Clinic page for more information.

Research Programs

Ongoing research is carried on at the Smell and Taste Center.  For more information, including paid studies, please go to the Research page.

Contribute to the Center

As a nonprofit medical research institution, private gifts to support our research endeavors are sorely needed.  Please go to our Donation page for more information.