Moritz Engelhardt Research Project
About his research, Moritz says:
"For my master thesis my topic of interest was the neural perception of olfactory-trigeminal stimuli and mixtures of those stimuli. For that, I worked with brain imaging data that was collected by functional magnetic resonance imaging. I analyzed this data using different statistical and computational approaches, including a multivariate machine learning approach. By the end of the year, I will continue my research during a doctorate project.
"For my doctorate project, I am interested in the phenomenon of anosmia. Anosmia describes the complete loss of smell, affecting one or more odors. This impairment has seen a special public interest in the aftermath of the CoViD-19 pandemic. Many patients witnessed a complete loss of smell during and even late after their infection. This makes anosmia a part of the symptom spectrum of Long Covid. We still don’t fully understand what mechanisms lead to anosmia in Long Covid, and even less how it can be prohibited or treated. Research on this condition is therefore especially important.
"Another disease in which anosmia appears as a symptom is Morbus Parkinson. Here, anosmia is often one of the earliest symptoms. Together with other symptoms, like anhedonia, apathy or depression, it resembles the non-motoric manifestation of Morbus Parkinson. One question I am especially interested in is the question how such early non-motor symptoms can predict onset and severity of Morbus Parkinson, and how they develop during the disease. I am also interested in correlations between anosmia and neuropsychiatric symptoms on a multisensory level: Does a reduction in perceived pleasantness of olfactory, visual and auditory stimuli correlate with anhedonia in that patient?
"My doctorate project has a special focus on the comparison of anosmia in Long Covid patients and in Morbus Parkinson patients. It is striking that in both diseases, anosmia can function as an early predictor. Also, in both diseases the smell loss leads to a significant loss in quality of life. Many people underestimate the devastating effect of losing one’s sense of smell. That is because most people aren’t aware that their sense of smell plays a huge role in their everyday life. Without it, we do not only lose the ability to enjoy the scent of the flowers in our garden, but also can’t enjoy our food or smell dangerous substances like gas anymore. In social situations and selection of your partner, body odors are of enormous importance. It is not by chance that we spend so much money on the best perfumes to impress potential partners. All this is lost in anosmic patients, who hence not uncommonly suffer from depression. Comparing Long Covid with Morbus Parkinson is also interesting in the light of the neurotropic properties of the Sars-CoV2 virus, which lead to neurological manifestations like brain fog or memory impairment. It cannot be ruled out that neurodegenerative diseases like Morbus Parkinson will also appear a lot more common in former CoVid-19 patients, something that has already been suggested by multiple researchers.
"The motivation for my doctorate project is to better understand anosmia in both diseases, with the goal to be able to predict them and ultimately help patients affected by it. I also strive to bring public attention on the condition of anosmia. I want to raise awareness of the devastating effects of losing your sense of smell, to create a better understanding of what patients affected by it go through, to gain more support for an increased research effort on this topic, but also to make people with an intact sense of smell cherish it even more and pay attention to the wonderous world of smells that surrounds us every day of our life."