Remote test of taste buds being developed by Pardubice University team

Scientists from the University of Pardubice are working on a simplified method of testing taste buds, which can be used by patients at home. The test uses an app which can be installed on a mobile device. It should be ready for use by the end of summer this year.

Aside from leading the Otorhinolaryngology Department at Pardubice Hospital, Doctor Jan Vodička also teaches at the local university’s faculty of medicine. Together with a team of colleagues, he has set out to develop a compact taste test, which patients can use at home.

The patient is given a specially designed rectangular label, which they place on top of their tongue and then record how it tastes on an app installed on their mobile device. Dr Vodička told Czech Radio that it is important for the test subject to keep their phone or tablet camera switched on during the test.

Jan Vodička | Photo: Ondřej Vaňura,  Czech Radio

“The camera, which records you while you are using the app, is there in order for us to be sure that you are applying the test correctly. You then mark whether you feel the label is salty, sour, or sweet.”

The results are subsequently sent via the app directly to the doctor, who performs a diagnosis.

Compared with hearing and seeing, the ability of taste is generally considered one of the less vital senses in the human body and a person may at first not even realise that they have a problem.

However, taste bud tests are important, because they can help indicate whether the patient is suffering from a disease, according to Dr Vodička.

“The area which enables us to taste is very important when it comes to illnesses related to the patient’s metabolism, such as diabetes, or hypertension. We know, for example, that patients with diabetes can experience a change in their sensitivity to tasting sweet things.”

Aside from diseases related to the metabolism, the doctor says that the loss of taste can also indicate a serious neurological issue. Patients, who have problems with their middle ear, are especially at risk of losing their sense of taste.

Photo: Ondřej Vaňura,  Czech Radio

“The nerve which enables us to taste passes through the middle ear. Some inflammations of the middle ear can lead to the loss of taste. The issue can also occur among patients who have undergone repeated operations of the middle ear. Suddenly, one side of the tongue’s taste buds stop working.”

The loss of the ability to taste has recently come into the media spotlight in association with patients infected by COVID-19, who are sometimes reported to have lost their sense of taste and smell.

Currently, taste testing tends to take place inside otorhinolaryngology clinics. Cotton wool swabs, each soaked in a differently tasting chemical mixture, are placed by a medical professional onto a patient’s tongue.

If all goes according to plan, the development of the new testing method should be finished by the end of this summer, after which it will become available for use by both doctors and patients.