Leveraging on COVID-19 on quantifying our molecular senses

The Team

The Proposal

Interdisciplinary Nature of Proposal

Smell and taste are known to be subjective and its quantification is proven to be challenging. The project attempts to quantify smell and taste through both social science and bioanalytical methods. The project will involve bioengineer, communication expert, psychologist, and data analyst (to-be hired). The basic background and understanding on molecular mechanisms of the disease progression of COVID-19 and its implications on the smell and taste perception which will be provided by the bioengineer for the survey design. The psychologist and communication expert will explore public perception and understanding on the association of COVID-19 with the loss of the sense of smell and taste. The generated data on the onset of the loss of smell and taste, the length of the symptoms, and how they compare between populations will require in-depth analysis by data scientists. The finding by different expertise and discipline in the project will converge into a medically-relevant solution where quantification of smell and taste become an underlying method in detecting health state and well-being of an individual and eventually the society.

Potential Societal Impact

Quantification of subjective perceptions, such as smell and taste, and correlating it with medical conditions will add an additional dimension into disease diagnosis, particularly those that relates to respiratory symptoms. Leveraging on COVID-19 as an initial case study for the development of standardized test kits for smell and taste, the test kit will be applicable for other respiratory conditions. Further implications are also expected in the diagnosis of early onset of neurological disorders, such as brain tumor and Alzheimer’s disease. Hence, the proposed project has potential implications beyond COVID-19. We are expecting to further develop another version of the kit for home deployment with a range of test molecules.  Integrating the smell and taste home test with genotyping (by collecting saliva samples for sequencing) will allow probing into the behaviour of a society which may be useful in understanding consumer preference. We envision that its availability beyond medical set-up for individual testing for either screening of medical symptoms or understanding of perceptions, will enable the society to bring more precise quantification methods into the subjective matters, such as smell and taste.

Scientific Outputs and Project Deliverables

1 co-authored peer-reviewed publication, "COVID-19 and Molecular Senses: A Study on Singapore Cohort" CRP proposal, "Quantification of Molecular Senses and Its Societal Impacts".

Risks and Mitigation

The proposed project is relatively low-risk. The surveys will be deployed online and can be taken at anytime. The only challenge is the data on the patients. It is anticipated that some patients may be suffering severe symptoms and will not be able to follow-through with the survey. To mitigate this condition, the survey will mostly involve patients with milder symptoms. We are also anticipating that there will be a need to translate the surveys into different languages to reach as difference as patient population as possible.

Current Status

A nation-wide survey (www.gcchemosensr.org) on the smell preference and attitude towards vaccine, has been completed.  Data analysis is in the process.  Translation of GCCR survey into Malay, Bahasa Indonesia and Burmese has been completed, once uploaded, they will be deployed around the region.