VCU School of Medicine Researcher Examines Ways to Restore Smell Function

Although it’s rare to experience a loss of smell or taste, it can happen due to head trauma, viral infection, sinus disease, neurological diseases, medications or aging.

Currently there is no treatment for those who suffer from anosmia, or complete loss of smell, which occurs when the olfactory nerves are damaged from coupe contra coupe head injuries such as in a car accident or a blast injury.
Richard M. Costanzo, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert on the loss of smell and taste, and professor of physiology and biophysics, otolaryngology, neurology and anatomy in the VCU School of Medicine, is examining ways to improve the outcome of smell and taste following nerve and brain injury. Specifically, he has been exploring nerve cell regeneration and functional recovery in the olfactory system, which is the area of the brain responsible for smell.
In a new study, published Jan. 19 in the journal Current Opinion in Otolaryngology & Head and Neck Surgery, Costanzo, together with Sayaka Yagi, M.D., Ph.D, with the Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medical Science in Japan, report the successful transplantation of olfactory tissue directly to the olfactory part of the brain in mice – possibly leading to a new method for restoring loss of smell in patients with anosmia.
According to Costanzo, olfactory cells have the ability to regenerate new sensory neurons.  
“Because olfactory tissue from the nose can regenerate, make new olfactory receptor cells and has the potential to establish connections with cells in the brain, olfactory transplants may provide a novel way to repair or restore smell function,” said Costanzo.
“These findings in mice may eventually lead to new surgical procedures to restore smell function in patients who have lost their sense of smell,” he said.

The work was supported by grants from the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and the Richmond Eye and Ear Health Alliance Foundation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A copy of the study is available for reporters by e-mail request by contacting the journal’s managing editor, Leanne Bull at [email protected], or Jon Muir at [email protected].