Tuesday April 3 6:20 PM ET
ORLANDO (Reuters Health) - Stem cells harvested from nasal tissue may offer a treatment for conditions such as spinal injuries or multiple sclerosis, researchers from the University of Louisville Health Sciences Center report.
Three studies describing the research were presented Tuesday at the Experimental Biology 2001 meeting here.
Cells in the nose constantly regenerate to maintain our sense of smell, lead investigator Dr. Fred Roisen explained in an interview with Reuters Health. ``For example,'' he said, ``when one has a cold, the sense of smell is gone, but as the cold disappears the sense of smell returns. This happens because the cells are regenerated to repair the damage caused by the cold.''
This pattern led Roisen to hypothesize that nasal tissue may contain stem cells, primitive cells that give rise to more mature body cells. In January, he published an article in the journal Brain Research that described his efforts at harvesting these cells from human nasal tissue.
In this new research, Roisen demonstrated that stem cells harvested from cadavers can be kept alive and made to reproduce in the laboratory. So far, he said, ``we have reproduced the cells for 100 or more cycles.''
These nose stem cells develop into either nerve cells or the cells that coat nerve fibers. This coating is called myelin. The most abundant source of these types of stem cells is brain tissue, and most researchers harvest the cells from aborted fetuses--a method that is controversial.
Roisen said that if cells can be harvested from nasal tissue, that would be an alternative to fetal tissue research. ''And we can use a person's own cells to treat disease or injury,'' he said.
The resulting nerve cells could be used to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease (news - web sites), Alzheimer's disease (news - web sites) or spinal injury. And myelin cells derived from nasal tissue could be used to treat multiple sclerosis, a disease marked by the breakdown of myelin.
However, Roisen said, it will be at least 5 years before he can test these treatments in humans.