People affected by smell or taste disorders from around the United States and around the world joined clinicians, scientists and patient advocates this past weekend at SmellTaste2019 in Gainesville, Florida. Hosted by the University of Florida Center for Smell and Taste (UFCST) and the UK-based charity Fifth Sense, the conference provided people with smell and taste disorders an opportunity to share experiences, gain support and find better ways of coping with their condition.
The weekend began with an informal social on Friday evening at the AC Marriot Hotel. Thanks to sponsors Glenfiddich (particularly Brand Ambassador Tracie Franklin) and The AC Hotel, and with help with Breakthru Beverage’s Eric Timme, the social featured a unique competition where local bartenders created cocktails and mocktails specifically designed to be enjoyable for people with smell or taste disorders. The finalists each prepared a cocktail of their own design based on their own knowledge and experience as well as insights into the science of flavor learned during a recent seminar with UFCST Director Steven Munger. While all four cocktails – each unique in their use of tastes, textures and spices – were big hits with the crowd, there could be only one winner. Guests voted James Delacruz and his Speyside Sand and Sangre the winner (the carbonated cherries and orange slices were a clever touch that many felt put this cocktail over the top).
The four finalists in the SmellTaste2019 Sensory Challenge during the opening night social.
The educational sessions started Saturday morning. Kat Haugh – a professional graphic recorder who lost her sense of smell three years ago – used her talents to visually summarize the presentations (see those images throughout this article). UFCST Director Steven Munger first introduced participants to the biology of smell, taste and flavor, and ensured everyone was on the same page. Kat then shared the emotional journey she has undertaken since she lost her sense of smell. Kat’s personal stories reminded everyone that they are not alone in their experiences. Next, otolaryngologist Dr. Jeb Justice – Co-Director (with Dr. Munger) of the UF Health Smell Disorders program – presented some clinical perspectives. Dr. Justice explained what to expect from your physician and how to best communicate with them. He also discussed the pros and cons of some current therapeutic options that patients might encounter, including steroid rinses and smell training.
A visual summary of the first session of SmellTaste2019. How do smell, taste and flavor work, and what happens when they don't.
Dr. Jeb Justice gives the ENT perspective.
During lunch, participants took time to meet each other, share their varied experiences, and discuss the impact that their condition has had on their lives. In the afternoon, Fifth Sense founder and Chair Duncan Boak spoke about that charity and the importance of community engagement, patient support, education and advocacy. He also emphasized how engaging your other senses can increase the enjoyment of food ad drink (something the attendees had experienced the night before). To further illustrate this point, Duncan had everyone try a battery of taste (sweet, sour, bitter and salty) standards provided by Fifth Sense partner FlavorActiV who are working to help people affected by olfactory loss better understand and utilize any remaining sense of taste.
Engagement and advocacy are critical to making advances for the chemosensory disorders community.
After an emotional, informative day it was time for a break. Many of the attendees took the opportunity to visit the Harn Museum of Art before heading back to the hotel to prepare for the evening banquet, which was held at the Touchdown Terrace in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The menu, prepared by Stewart’s with input from Dr. Munger and Duncan, featured a range of multisensory dishes to appeal to those with smell and taste disorders. Duncan also created a “tasting guide” to help participants consider the constrasting tastes, textures, spices and temperatures in each dish.
Sunday morning began with a talk from Dr. Jeffrey Martens, Chair of the UF Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and a scientist working to develop therapies for treating congenital anosmia. Dr. Martens spoke about the current state of research focused on treating chemosensory disorders, and he offered a glimpse into the potential biologics, including gene therapy and stem cell therapy in the context of both congenital and acquired smell and taste disorders. Results from his lab, demonstrating that mice with congenital anosmia treated via gene therapy could acquire meaningful olfactory function, were particularly inspiring.
The future of therapy: hope for developing curative therapies for chemosensory disorders.
SmellTaste2019 wrapped up with an open discussion on advocacy, awareness and future steps, and a promise to keep in touch. Conference participants emphasized how individuals can make a difference through even simple actions, but also spoke about the power of the chemosensory disorders community to work together towards change. It was a hopeful note on which to end, and an inspiration for future engagement (including SmellTaste2021!). Many thank to all of our participants, speakers and sponsors for a successful SmellTaste2019!
Where do we go from here?
Steven Munger, Kat Haugh and Duncan Boak at the successful close of SmellTaste2019.