Jan. 17 - Researchers in Singapore are developing taste-simulation technology to help people suffering from cancer and other illnesses regain their appetite. By applying electric current to the tongue, they have managed to reproduce a variety of tastes to stimulate damaged taste buds. Ben Gruber reports.
Most people take their sense of taste for granted. But some, like cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, lose their ability to taste..and in turn, their appetite as well. A team led by Ellen Do from the Keio National University in Singapore say they are developing a solution for those people. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CO-DIRECTOR OF KEIO-NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH CENTRE, ELLEN DO SAYING: "They need to be encouraged to eat more food, or protein or other things but nothing tastes good. So they think even if we give them sourness, or bitterness or saltiness, it may increase their appetite." Do and her team are building what they call a taste simulator, a system that simulates different taste sensations on the tongue using electric currents. The currents are delivered by a silver electrode connected to a utensil or water bottle at one end and a power source at the other, effectively jolting diminished taste receptors on the tongue into action. Do says that by combining different levels of current and varying the temperature of the electrode, different tastes can be reproduced. Mahrunisa Fathiyah gave the taste simulator a try. (SOUNDBITE) (English) 25-YEAR-OLD SPORTS MANAGER MAHRUNISA FATHIYAH, SAYING: "I don't think it felt artificial, I felt as if I was drinking salty water, or sour liquid, I didn't really feel any electric shock, or something similar in those lines. But the drinking part, it felt more like I was touching metal plates which tasted sour or bitter." Do says her team can reliably produce bitter and sour tastes but are still working on the sensations of sweet and salty. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CO-DIRECTOR OF KEIO-NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH CENTRE, ELLEN DO SAYING: "So we got lots of requests, people want to have (flavours of) Coke, chocolate, or cheese or something, we cannot do that yet, but we thought we are at least exploring the primary tastes." And once those tastes have been fully developed, the team hopes to produce more complex flavours...using the simulator to revitalise the appetites of people who need it most.