Boston Researchers Developing Coronavirus Smell Test

Up to 400 patients from Boston area hospitals will smell a scented card and answer a series of questions on an app to detect early stages of the coronavirus

NBC Universal, Inc.

Boston researchers are pioneering an at-home smell test that may detect the early stages of the novel coronavirus.

The new test is part of a clinical study being led by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Up to 400 patients at the three hospitals will participate in this first round of testing.

Participants receive a scented card, download an app and answer a series of questions on their phone, tablet or computer about COVID symptoms and subjective loss of smell and taste.

Officials say that early awareness of exposure to the virus may trigger testing sooner and improve the overall accuracy. Emerging research on COVID-19 patients shows that self-reporting loss of sense of smell and taste are common early symptoms of the disease.

“There is so much we don’t know about COVID-19, but the research shows that loss of smell and taste play a prominent role in identifying possible patients with the virus,” said Dr. Mark Albers, an MGH neurologist specializing in memory and olfactory disorders and the principal investigator of the study.

“If we can provide reliable self-administered tests to people and health care workers, we may be able to slow the spread of the disease in the future and chart recovery of smell function, which may be helpful to determine when it is safe to reengage after having the COVID infection.”

The study is being created in collaboration with IFF, a company that works with tastes, scents and nutrition. MFR Sampllings, in Argentina, provided their support with 500 cards for the pilot study while Arcade Beauty, an American company, contributed odor labels. ADK Group, a Boston-based app developer is assisting in getting the first prototype of the app running for the pilot phase.

The Blavatnik Sensory Disorders Fund at Harvard Medical School is supporting the development of standalone apps that will enable longitudinal symptom tracking and smell testing.

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