The Monell Chemical Senses Center recently completed its 50th anniversary celebration with a week-long series of events that highlighted the Philadelphia research organization’s half-century of exceptional contributions to sensory science.
The Monell Center Celebrates 50 Years of Sense-sational Taste and Smell Science
In the 1960s, very little was understood about the essential mechanisms and functions of what were thought to be the “minor senses” — taste and smell. With this in mind, physiologist Morley Kare travelled from Raleigh, North Carolina to New York City, where he presented a plan to establish an institute dedicated to taste and smell research to Edmund C. Monell, W. Barret Brown, Wiley T. Buchanan, Jr. and Henry G. Walter, Jr. – the directors of the Ambrose Monell Foundation. The Foundation saw merit in the idea and on December 15, 1967, granted him funding to found what would become the Monell Chemical Senses Center. The initial $1M pledge, awarded over five years to support the Center’s start-up operations, was soon accompanied by government and industry support.
1968: The Beginning
The Center opened in Philadelphia on January 1, 1968, and since then has transformed the science of taste and smell. With consistent support from the Monell Foundation, Center scientists have gone on to establish a legacy of knowledge that now is serving as a springboard to innovative approaches to improve human health.
Today, the Monell Chemical Senses Center, with a staff of over 40 PhD-level scientists from many different fields, is a global hub of smell and taste science. The Center’s cutting-edge research has produced thousands of scientific publications that identify the underlying biological mechanisms of taste and smell and define their involvement in communication, appetite, nutrition, and disease to benefit human health and well-being.
Thanks to 50 years of discoveries by Monell scientists, taste and smell are no longer considered minor senses. Molecular and sensory work has revealed how these senses influence food choice, preference and appetite to shape human nutrition and dietary health. Other work has demonstrated that body odors reveal a wide range of personal information about an individual — including age, gender, ethnicity, stress level, and health status — to impact social interactions. Ongoing research focuses on chemical characterization of disease-based odors to enable development of early stage noninvasive diagnostic tests. Still other discoveries relate to occupational health, disease susceptibility, regenerative medicine, and more.
2018: Celebrating Success
In recognition of these advancements, the Monell Center’s 50th anniversary celebration extended across 2018, beginning with a mayoral proclamation naming December 15, 2017 – the 50th anniversary of the Foundation’s initial grant to open the Center – as Philadelphia Taste and Smell Day. The Center’s history and its most significant scientific discoveries were brought to public attention throughout 2018 via the #MonellMatters social media campaign.
Smell and taste disorders, including anosmia – complete loss of the sense of smell — occur in more than 12 percent people worldwide, affecting patients’ quality of life, personal safety, and health due to the inability to appreciate food flavor, detect environmental hazards, or fully engage with social networks and surroundings. On November 14-15, 2018, over 150 scientists, clinicians, and patients met in Philadelphia at the Identifying Treatments for Taste and Smell Disorders (ITTSD) conference, hosted at Monell. The groundbreaking meeting’s scientific goal was to establish a consensus-based roadmap to guide treatment-focused research on smell and taste disorders.
A second goal was to create an opportunity for direct engagement between patients, clinicians, and researchers to identify patients as stakeholders in research efforts to improve the care and management of their conditions. Patients responded enthusiastically with comments such as, “Attending this conference has given me hope that I may be able to restore some amount of my sense of smell,” and “This is the beginning of advocacy for patients. The engagement between patients, clinicians, and researchers is priceless.”
On the evening of November 14, the Center hosted a sold-out fundraising dinner, Double Tasty: Dinner and a Show! Over 200 guests enjoyed a small plates dinner with accompanying scientific commentary designed to highlight the impact and potential of Monell’s research.
The week closed on November 15 with a gathering of past and present Monell scientists, advisors, and supporters, who shared reminiscences and perspectives on the Center’s founding, its pioneering corporate sponsors program, and the resulting 50 years of basic and translational taste and smell science. During this event, Monell Center President Emeritus and Monell Foundation director Gary Beauchamp, PhD, presented a talk highlighting the Monell Foundation’s critical role in founding the Center and continuing strong annual support.
The salute to Monell Center’s significant mark on taste and smell science continued two weeks later in Japan, where a special symposium commemorated the long and productive relationship between the Center and its Japanese academic and industry colleagues.
2019: Looking to the Future
The Center deeply appreciates the Foundation’s role as a driving force in its formation, growth, and development. Looking forward, the Monell Chemical Senses Center enters the next 50 years poised to leverage its legacy of fundamental discovery in taste and smell to build a healthier future for all.