Scientists are seeking to develop a tool to overcome the effects of anosmia, which are encountered in particular in cases of long Covid.
Richard Costanzo heads the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Commonwealth University in the State of Virginia in the United States. He has been studying cases of anosmia, in other words the partial or complete loss of the sense of smell, for 40 years.
And the onset of the Covid pandemic, which with it led to a large surplus of cases of loss of smell, gave him an additional reason to want to combat its effects.
Bionic nose: an ambitious project
The idea is to develop a prosthesis to replace olfactory sensors. And that’s no small feat, because as Le Point reminds us, the approximately 400 types of these sensors are able to distinguish 1000 billion odors.
Helped by Daniel Coelho, a professor specializing in ENT, he therefore wants to “short-circuit” this incredibly complex system. It was already necessary to choose an odor sensor, in this case a technology based on semiconductor materials developed by other laboratories. Suffice to say that the work is titanic because the tools available to date are not able to recognize more than a few dozen smells.
transmission of signals to the brain
But then, how to ensure the transmission of signals to the brain? The path of olfactory signals is complicated. It is the chemoreceptors in the nose that provide transmission to two olfactory bulbs, which are found behind the nasal cavity. Treated, they are returned to other parts of the brain dedicated among other things to memory and emotions.
Only, it remains to know in which parts of the brain infuse the signals picked up by the bionic nose. In the meantime, what is certain is that cochlear implants like those already used to improve hearing will be in charge of the transfer.
According to researchers, it “it will take another 10 to 15 years to be able to present a functional prosthesis”. Other researchers are betting on stem cells to “reboot” areas damaged by Covid.