Our long-term vision is that one day it will be possible to restore a sense of smell to those who have lost it. The ROSE project aims to provide the very first steps towards radically new technology to achieve this. By the end of the project we hope to have created a first proof of concept.
If you have no olfactory impairment, perhaps you are unaware of the importance of your sense of smell. Odors are sources of both pleasure and social bonding, they contribute to our emotional wellbeing, with reduced or absent olfaction being linked to depression. Olfactory deficits impair our relationship with food; our primeval sense of smell distinguishes between edible and inedible foods, has synergy with taste and is integral to gustatory pleasure. Loss of smell also increases the risk of household accidents (detection of noxious gases and smoke). It is estimated that partial or total loss of smell arising from a variety of causes (trauma, congenital deficits, age, viral infection and other pathologies) concerns about 20% of the population. This represents several million people in Europe. Given that olfactory loss has also been identified as a symptom of COVID-19, this prevalence may increase. The economic and social costs caused by this sensory impairment are therefore very high. Restoring olfaction – completely or even partially – is important for society, but a difficult challenge for science: a technological device capable of restoring odorant detection and recognition has yet to be developed.