My Big Aha Moment: A Tribute to Anosmia Awareness by Jenifer Trachtman, Monell Director of Development

Here at Monell, staff participate in science demonstrations every day. Let me tell you about one that I did recently.

Sitting around a conference room table, we were all asked to smell a small vial labeled with the word galoxide.

Now, I’ve participated in countless demonstrations and studies at Monell. Over the last 10 years, this has meant—

  • Eating hundreds of jelly beans while wearing silly looking nose clips
  • Putting unknown pieces of paper in my mouth and seeing if I could taste anything
  • Taking home a set of Sniffin’ Sticks and tracking how they helped me train my sense of smell

All in the name of science.

I’m a pretty good sport, always happy to participate in a research study, and to contribute to healthier futures. But, that day I experienced something completely new while sitting around the table, something unexpected, something disconcerting.

Everyone else in the room could smell the galoxide and I couldn’t. I watched as my co-workers and visitors chatted animatedly about laundry detergent, their grandmother’s perfume, the soap in a hotel bathroom.

While I experienced nothing. Nothing. Nada. Nilch.

Turns out that galoxide is commonly known as musk.

I could smell no muskiness: no grandmothers, no soaps, no laundry. I had no memory of this odor. And, I consider myself a person with a good sense of smell.

As it was explained to me, I have something that scientists refer to as a specific anosmia. It’s not uncommon. It means that while I can generally detect a wide range of odors, I cannot detect some things, apparently my individual anosmia is to musk.

I guess this is the first time that I’ve actually really truly gotten it—a first-hand experience of what life is like without smell. I put myself in the shoes of the many people who reach out to us for information about smell and taste differences and to donate to the cause each year.

At the end of 2023, to celebrate Monell’s 55th anniversary, we set out to raise $55,000 so that we could begin the new year ready to solve problems that will serve you and inform the health of so many others and even future generations. Because of you and your strong support, we well exceeded our goal, raising nearly 90,000! I extend my sincere thanks to all of you who donated. Your support ensures that our Center can continue to understand the significance of specific anosmias and so many other taste, smell and gut-brain discoveries that provide hope and improve lives.

Happy Anosmia Awareness Day and here’s to learning more from our expert scientists in 2024!

—Jenifer Trachtman