Posted May 1, 2020

COVID-19-related study led by Temple researcher earns nod from NIH

Valentina Parma, an assistant professor of psychology, is leading an international survey-based study of taste- and smell-related symptoms of the coronavirus.

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Joseph V. Labolito
A research associate professor from Temple is leading a global research initiative related to sensory symptoms of COVID-19.

An international research study exploring the sensory aspects of COVID-19 led by a Temple professor earned a nod from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

The NIH National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences listed a survey created by the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research (GCCR) aimed at delving further into the taste- and smell-related symptoms of the coronavirus in its COVID-19 Research Tools. Valentina Parma, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the College of Liberal Arts, chairs the leadership committee of the GCCR and has been instrumental in leading development of the survey and its associated research project.

To date, the survey has been completed by more than 20,000 people worldwide. It is currently available in more than two dozen languages.

“Many people have recently reported smell and taste loss, which is something that usually doesn’t happen on this scale,” said Parma, whose research focuses on human olfaction. 

“We are delving into the contribution of smell, taste and chemesthesis—the ability to perceive burning, cooling or tingling sensations—to COVID-19, and working to identify groups of people based on their reported experiences of the change of sensation,” she added.

This deeper investigation into the smell- and taste-related symptoms of COVID-19 may serve to provide insights into the presence of the illness, and inform self-monitoring practices. Beyond simply asking whether a person experienced a change to their sense of taste or smell during a respiratory illness (whether diagnosed as COVID-19 or not), the survey asks specific questions to elucidate how these senses changed during or after the illness. 

“GCCR’s research is significant because we are learning about one of the earliest potential symptoms of COVID-19, which is the abrupt loss of the sense of smell, taste, and chemesthesis (the sense we get when eating hot chili peppers or the cool we feel with menthol),” explained Danielle Reed, associate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, who is also involved with the research. 

The study will help to determine how strongly associated the symptom of smell loss is with diagnoses of COVID-19 by uncovering more about how likely a person with smell loss is to actually have the coronavirus, and how likely it is that someone who does not experience loss of smell but has other symptoms associated with COVID-19 actually has the virus. 

“These are important questions to answer, because it will help doctors diagnose COVID-19 and help patients better understand their own illness and potential courses of treatment,” Reed explained. 

The GCCR plans to publish several rounds of results from the ongoing research study. Inclusion in the NIH list will allow other researchers and clinicians to use the survey, which will contribute to broadening the population of people who complete it, Parma said. 

“The GCCR is honored that our survey is included among the high credibility tools selected by the NIH to perform timely research in response to emerging threats,” Parma said. “This will help us showcase a carefully crafted survey from experts in the field of chemosensation to other researchers, in the spirit of open science, which is one of the tenets of our consortium.”

Learn more about the study and find out if you qualify to participate.