Smell Clinic commences as researchers gather more data on Alzheimer’s disease

Dr Ali Delbaz holding the smell test
Professor James St John

A pilot smell clinic has commenced at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus in a bid to gather more data on how microorganisms within the nose can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor James St John from Griffith’s Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research said the ultimate aim of the pilot is to find out if the sense of smell can be used as an early warning indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we can detect early indications of the risk of Alzheimer’s disease five to ten years before the onset of cognitive impairment, then we can administer treatments much earlier and hopefully reduce the progression of the disease,” Professor St John said.

“We are looking to recruit about 50 people from different population groups including those with early stages of mild cognitive impairment or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and healthy people over the age of 18.

“We’ll conduct a range of tests including some very interesting and fun smell tests, as well as taking a small biopsy from inside the nose which will then be analysed for the presence of various microorganisms and changes in protein and gene expression.

“We have previously shown in animal studies that certain bacteria can initiate pathologies consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.

“There is now a worldwide collaboration of scientists and clinicians working together to show how microorganisms contribute to the disease in humans and the new smell clinic is part of this worldwide collaboration.”

Dr Ali Delbaz, a Research Fellow who is managing the smell clinic, said: “We already know almost all people with Alzheimer’s disease have lost at least some of their sensitivity in the sense of smell, but testing the sense of smell is not routinely used in diagnosis.

“Our new data now suggests we can detect decline in the sense of smell much earlier than previously thought so we have a great opportunity of creating an easy screening method.

“In our smell clinic, we don’t just examine the patient’s sense of smell.

“Simply by using their olfactory samples, we also employ advanced and rapid techniques to identify any abnormalities in their genes or proteins that may be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“This valuable data allows us to detect potential Alzheimer’s-related changes long before memory symptoms manifest.

“As a result, patients have ample time to seek advice from general practitioners and specialists, enabling them to delay or even prevent the disease to the greatest extent possible.

“At the core, the smell clinic is about how easily and cheaply we can detect early symptoms.”

The study will initially run for two years.

Alzheimer’s disease is a slowly progressive brain disorder, principally affecting the elderly, that culminates in the devastating loss of memory and cognitive skills.

Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease.