AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Researchers at University of Colorado Hospital have discovered a key step in how taste buds regenerate, which could help cancer patients who lose their sense of taste.

“My taste is gone. I feel like I’m eating a piece of metal,” said cancer patient Alejandra Contreras.

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Contreras, 42, can’t taste the bitterness of coffee, the sour of citrus, the sweetness of cookies or wonderful salty side dishes.

Alejandra Contreras (credit: CBS)

Alejandra Contreras (credit: CBS)

Contreras has battled stomach and ovarian cancer and the many rounds of chemotherapy killed her cancer cells along with her taste buds.

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“Even the water has a funny, gross taste,” said Contreras.

“A lot of cancer drugs cause a loss or an altered sense of taste,” said Dr. Linda Barlow, a professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Barlow and Dr. Dany Gaillard have discovered in mice a key genetic pathway, a signal, that controls the renewal of taste buds.

“We might be able to have like a topical cream or some kind of a lollipop that patients could suck on from time to time that would give them a local burst of this signal that they could perhaps retain or maintain their sense of taste a little bit better,” said Barlow.

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“That would be wonderful,” said Contreras.