Taste and smell test ‘could screen for Alzheimer’s before memory loss starts’

The test involves using a machine that will be able to create flavours accurately.

Nilima Marshall
Wednesday 14 June 2023 00:01 BST
The new method is undergoing clinical trials (PA)
The new method is undergoing clinical trials (PA)

UK scientists are working on a smell and taste test that could help screen people with Alzheimer’s disease long before symptoms of memory loss.

The research, led by WMG at the University of Warwick, involves using a machine that will be able to create flavours accurately.

The aim is for participants to smell and drink different flavour solutions and describe them.

Those who perform poorly can then be referred for further tests which could result in an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the scientists said.

This research is being presented at an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on dementia at Westminster on Wednesday June 14 where it is being backed by Alzheimer’s Society.

Professor Alan Chalmers, from WMG at the University of Warwick, said: “In this simple screening test, people will be given different flavours to smell and taste – they then determine which is sweeter, less astringent, smells more of lemon, for example.

“It’s an easy, non-invasive test which can be rolled out to people quickly across the UK.

“At the moment, people who present with symptoms of memory loss are referred for MRI scans and spinal fluid tests to confirm a diagnosis.

It's an easy, non-invasive test which can be rolled out to people quickly across the UK

Prof Alan Chalmers

“By the time memory loss occurs, things are often too late; pioneering drug treatments only perform well in the early stages of degeneration.”

He added: “Failure of the flavour test can give the necessary early indication.

“Our preliminary data shows that there is a difference in the flavour detection of those with Alzheimer’s compared to those without the disease, so we hope to get further backing and implement these screening tests UK-wide.”

Prof Chalmers said that while testing taste and smell has long been established in clinical practice, current approaches – such as scratch-card odour booklets – have been blunt.

He said their new method, which is undergoing clinical trials, allows components to be added to or subtracted from the solutions in precisely defined amounts to slightly alter smell and taste.

Prof Chalmers said: “By being able to add and subtract to any component of a flavour such as taste, mouthfeel, aroma, in a controlled manner enables a person’s perception ability to be determined in much the same way an optician determines what glasses you need.”

The research also involves experts from Superlunary Labs and with support from University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust and food technology company New-Food Innovation.

Sir Jeremy Wright, who is hosting the APPG, said: “I am delighted to be hosting an event at the House of Commons focusing on a development that could contribute to a significant improvement in the mass diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, alongside the new strides in treatments that have been announced in recent months.”

Dr Richard Oakley, associate director of research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It’s really exciting to see how researchers are thinking outside of the box about potential methods to detect the diseases that cause dementia at the earliest stages.

“This is so important now that new disease-modifying treatments are just around the corner.”

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