Pain and Sensory Physiology

Sensory system disorders — including the debilitating chronic facial pain condition called trigeminal neuralgia (TN), migraine and the inability to smell (anosmia) — significantly impact health and quality of life. To date, TN and related neuropathic pain have been incurable and there is no therapeutic treatment for anosmia. It is critical to discover ways to reduce or block neuropathic pain and to help those who have lost, or never had, the sense of smell and/or taste.

Research at the MBI

In the mid-2000s, former MBI Director Doug Anderson suggested that use of stem cells, differential gene expression and gene therapy could lead to a cure for trigeminal neuralgia, an extremely painful condition that afflicts men and women of all ages. Thus was born a research initiative to model the pain caused by a damaged trigeminal nerve — the fifth cranial (trigeminal) nerve, one of 12 pairs of nerves attached to the brain — as a prototype in the lab to assist in improving our understanding of other conditions, including multiple sclerosis, migraines, spinal nerve damage and epilepsy. Today, MBI investigators are pursuing multiple lines of research, including gene therapy to target pain pathways; investigating the role of lost or damaged myelin sheath that insulates the trigeminal nerve; and mapping signatures of pain in the brain.

MBI chemosensory scientists within the UF Center for Smell and Taste (UFCST) are working to discover therapeutic treatments for smell and/or taste disorders such as the inability to smell. The sense of smell (olfaction) significantly contributes to our understanding of our environment, and smell impairments not only can be a safety issue (i.e., detecting smoke or spoiled food) but can interfere with the desire to eat, as flavor perception is greatly driven by smell. UFCST scientists strive to develop a gene therapy approach to find a curative therapy for smell loss. Recently, they have uncovered how to build a sense of smell in mice with congenital anosmia (lack of smell since birth) by pioneering a gene therapy approach to repair damaged olfactory sensory neurons in the nasal cavity.

Center for Smell and Taste (UFCST)

The UFCST unites more than 50 interdisciplinary faculty members across seven colleges with interests in the study of the chemical senses (smell and taste). The UFCST’s mission is to improve the health of Florida residents and boost interest in Florida’s agricultural products by coordinating and promoting basic and applied research and education in the chemical senses. Partnering with the department of otolaryngology, the UFCST recently launched the UF Health Smell Disorders Program to conduct clinical research and patient care for people affected by smell disorders such as anosmia.