Adult stem cells have the ability to transform into many types of cells, but tracing the path individual stem cells follow as they mature and identifying the molecules that trigger these fateful decisions are difficult in a living animal. University of California, Berkeley, neuroscientists have now combined new techniques for sequencing the RNA in single cells with detailed statistical analysis to more easily track individual stem cells in the nose, uncovering clues that someday could help restore smell to those who have lost it. The results are published this week in the journal Cell Stem Cell. The article is titled “Deconstructing Olfactory Stem Cell Trajectories at Single-Cell Resolution.” "A stem cell's job is twofold: to replace or recreate mature cells that are lost over time, both through normal aging and after injury, and to replace themselves so that the process can continue over the life of the animal," said senior author John Ngai, PhD, the Coates Family Professor of Neuroscience and a member of UC Berkeley's Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and the Berkeley Stem Cell Center. "We are getting closer to understanding how mature sensory neurons are generated from olfactory stem cells, an understanding that's key for an eventual stem cell therapy to restore function." Dr. Ngai noted that perhaps one-quarter of all people over the age of 50 have some loss of smell, yet doctors have little understanding why, and no treatments for most cases. There's not even a standardized test for loss of smell, as there is for vision or hearing loss, in spite of widespread reports of suffering by patients who have lost their sense of smell.
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