Taichung Veterans General Hospital Pioneers New Treatment in Taiwan



Statistics show that about 5-10% of the total population have lost their sense of smell due to a variety of reasons including rhinitis, head trauma, and virus infection. Some of them lose more than just their sense of smell, they lose their way of life. Degeneration of the olfactory nerve is known to be an early sign of dementia, which has been rampant across the globe in recent years, and other diseases that affect the functions of the brain. The Massachusetts General Hospital and University of Chicago once conducted a joint study that found that the low cost, noninvasive olfactory test is an effective way to determine the risk of dementia.


Rong-San Jiang, who had studied at the Smell and Taste Center at the University of Pennsylvania, established the first smell testing center in Taiwan at Taichung Veterans General Hospital in 1994. It was the oldest, most well-equipped, and the only officially designated smell testing center in Taiwan. At the time, the first critical problem that Jiang faced was that the scent samples for the patients were from the US and full of smells like skunk or lilac that are familiar to westerners but not to the Taiwanese. "I had to ask the chemical companies in the US to develop special 'Taiwanese' smelling samples such as sandalwood and magnolia. They later also developed Asian smells to facilitate testing of Asian patients." said Jiang.


The center tests approximately 1,500 people a year, the most in Taiwan. Steroids are used by the center to treat patients who lost the sense of smell after an upper respiratory tract infection. Patients with a complete loss of smell showed an improvement of 46.8%, while patients with a partial loss of smell showed an improvement of 74.1%. For patients with a complete loss of smell due to trauma, steroids are used in combination with zinc to achieve an improvement of 28.2%. The center is the only one in Taiwan with a computerized olfactory testing system, where a computer releases scents for smell testing. Meanwhile, the center is continuing to develop new diagnostic tools and treatment methods, including the olfactory resolution test developed in collaboration with Rockefeller University. The test uses special scents for testing in hopes of finding a smell test that works across different races and cultures. In addition, the center has developed methods to test olfactory function with PET and MRI.


The center has earned the Symbol of National Quality and won a bronze medal in the National Biotechnology and Medical Care Quality Awards. It's proof that the center is the best in the country and possibly in the world. Other features of and innovations of the center include:

  1. Developing the first revised version of the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test in Asia.
  2. It is the only commercial smell test that is catered to Chinese people.
  3. World's first report on the reliability of the first commercialized computer smelling test.
  4. First in the world to prove the treatment efficacy of zinc on smelling loss due to trauma. Researching different treatment methods, such as the olfactory training that involves smelling four different scents in the morning and at night, and the world's first treatment that combines acupuncture or Chinese medicine.
  5. Focus on the patient's quality of life and melancholia to reduce the burden of the disease on the society.

(Editing by Nicole Yang, Research Center for Biotechnology and Medicine Policy)