Olfactory stem cells, obtained from a patient’s nose, can provide vital clues about brain disorders like schizophrenia.

A Griffith University research team developed this technique to examine brain diseases based on the patient’s nose-derived stem cells.

Alan Mackay-Sim from the National Centre for Adult Stem Cell Research of Griffith University described it as a milestone because researchers could not obtain brain cells of patients suffering from brain diseases.

“Lack of patient-derived brain cells has blocked progress in understanding brain diseases compared to progress in understanding and treating cancers, based on cells from cancer patients,” Mackay-Sim said, according to a Griffith University statement.

Olfactory stem cells have many advantages over other stem cells sources as models for brain diseases, the journal Disease Models and Mechanisms reported.

“They can be obtained from a patient’s nose with a simple biopsy and the cells provide important information about both developmental and degenerative brain diseases,” it added.

“For brain diseases, research has relied on cells from other parts of the body which lack important features for understanding brain diseases, and post-mortem brain samples which are limited in supply and provide the endpoint of disease only,” it said.

Mackay-Sim’s team used olfactory stem cells from people with schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease and compared them to stem cells from healthy people.

“This approach demonstrated disease-specific differences in the genes, proteins and cell-functions of those suffering from the brain disorders. It may also reveal important findings for other neurological conditions and help to develop new drugs,” he said.

Schizophrenia is a life-long mental illness affecting one per cent of the world’s population. Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological disorder affecting 0.1 per cent of people.

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