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.  Smell loss, in some cases permanent smell loss, can be induced by the virus causing COVID-19 disease. Despite these findings, the chemical senses have received 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:

  1.  To provide clinical evaluation, treatment, and counseling for patients experiencing chemosensory deficits
  2.  To provide facilities for an intellectual focus for research in basic and applied aspects of chemosensation
  3.  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 and traditional testing areas.  Major equipment housed in the Center includes computerized acoustic and anterior rhinometric measurement systems, a multichannel polygraph, a unique regional automated taste testing system, and a compliment of 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 from nearly 7,000 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.