Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Former Queenslander of the year makes world breakthrough on stem cells.

Download PDFDownload PDF

Summary of research prepared by principal researcher, Professor Alan Mackay-Sim Murrell W, Féron F, Wetzig A, Bianco J, Perry C, Lee G, Mackay-Sim A (2005) Multipotent stem cell in adult olfactory mucosa Developmental Dynamics (in press).


“Professor Alan Mackay-Sim and his team at Griffith University have taken stem cell technology a giant leap forward with research published today in an international peer-reviewed journal,” said Senator Ron Boswell, Leader of the Nationals in the Senate.

[Professor Mackay-Sim was Queenslander of the Year 2003 for his services to science and research. Health Minister Tony Abbott was in Brisbane today to officially launch publication of Mackay-Sim’s research in Developmental Dynamics.]

“Professor Mackay-Sim has proven that olfactory stem cells are a simple source for generating a plentiful supply of adult stem cells which can then be turned into virtually any kind of body cell without the problems of rejection or tumours associated with embryo cells.”

“This new adult stem cell technology now puts them way ahead of embryo stem cell research.”

“Science has spoken loud and clear and come out on the side of adult stem cells.”

Senator Boswell predicted that the Mackay-Sim research would revolutionise biotechnology programs in the stem cell field as investors realise that adult stem cells are the way of the future.

“Adult stem cells are already being used right now on human patients to treat diseases.”

“The Griffith research on adult cells means there will be no need to harvest millions of embryos, nor generate ‘therapeutic’ clones to overcome the rejection problems.”

Senator Boswell congratulated Professor Mackay-Sim’s team “who have made this discovery for the whole world to see and learn. They have achieved this through years of hard work and minimal funding. They are the real heroes of medical science.”

“It is great to see them get the well deserved and overdue attention. I will be advocating strongly that the federal government gives them the support and assistance to advance their research to the next level.”


Media Contact - Paul Leven 07 3001 8150

Multipotent adult stem cells from the human nose New research at Griffith University shows that adult stem cells from the human nose are able to give rise to new brain cells, liver cells, heart cells, kidney cells and muscle cells.

In contrast to embryonic stem cells, which are thought to be able to give rise to all cell types in the body, adult stem cells are often argued to have lesser abilities. It is thought that the stem cells in tissue that regenerate, like the skin and blood and olfactory mucosa, can only give rise to the cells in that tissue, like skin and blood and olfactory mucosa. It is often argued that adult stem cells would not be as useful as embryonic stem cells for stem cell therapies. This new research turns this argument on its head.

This published research paper describes adult stem cells isolated from the olfactory mucosa, the sense organ of smell. Representing four years of work by a team led by Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, the paper demonstrates that these adult stem cells have similar abilities to embryonic stem cells in being able to turn into many different cells types, not just the cells of the sense of smell.

The stem cells from the human nose were able to give rise to new nerve cells, glial cells, liver cells, heart cells and muscle cells when growing in a dish. They gave rise to new heart, liver, kidney, brain, limb, and many other tissues when transplanted into a developing chick embryo. Stem cells from the rat nose also gave rise to new blood cells when transplanted into rats whose bone marrow stem cells were destroyed by irradiation such as cancer patients receive. These experiments show that the adult stem cells from the nose have the ability to develop into many different cell types, not just nerve cells, if they are given the right chemical or cellular environment. In this respect they are very similar to embryonic stem cells. They are very different from embryonic stem cells in one respect, they do not seem to grow in an uncontrolled way, either in the lab dish or after transplantation. It seems that their environment in the dish or after transplantation holds a strong control on the way they develop. For this reason they might be better candidates for cell therapies because they do not seem to form tumours or teratomas.

Stem cells from the human nose are relatively easy to get and grow very well in the lab. We can multiply them from small samples into millions of cells and these cells can then be directed to turn into different types of cells. These attributes make them good candidates for cell transplantation therapies and tissue reconstruction. Their other big advantage over embryonic stem cells is their potential for “autologous” therapies, in which a patient’s own cells are removed from the nose, grown and multiplied in a dish and transplanted back into the same patient. This avoids all the problems of immune rejection that happen when cells or organs from a donor are transplanted into the patient. Autologous transplants are not rejected and do not required a strict regime of immune suppressing drugs to prevent rejection. Professor Mackay-Sim’s team is trialling the use of adult olfactory stem cell transplantation in animal models of Parkinson’s disease.

Stem cells from the nose will be useful in drug development. They are human stem cells and have the potential to turn into cells targetted for drug development. They can also be used for toxicology testing.

Stem cells from the nose will be very important for learning about human diseases. In the same way that breast cancer cells are used to learn about breast cancer, it will be possible to take stem cells from people with Parkinson’s disease and learn about Parkinson’s disease, or cells from people with motor neuron disease and learn about that. Professor Mackay-Sim’s team is already using stem cells from the nose to study Parkinson’s disease and schizophrenia. With the ability to use adult olfactory stem cells in this way it should not be necessary to develop reproductive cloning for this purpose.

What’s new about this research? These are adult neural stem cells that are readily obtainable in every individual at all ages. They can be grown in the lab to produce many millions of cells. There are other adult neural stem cells in the brain but they are not obtainable without major surgery. There are adult stem cells in the blood and bone marrow but they are not very abundant and can be hard to obtain and cannot easily be multiplied in the lab. There are adult stem cells in skin and fat which are easily obtainable but are hard to grow.

These are adult stem cells that have many of the capabilities of embryonic stem cells, apparently without the side effects of uncontrollable growth. Some other adult stem cells, such as those from brain and blood, also seem to have these powers of development.

These are adult stem cells that can be obtained from everyone with little discomfort and have the potential for “autologous” transplantation - transplantation back into the same person. This is now done for blood diseases with bone marrow stem cells. This could be done for nervous system (ie brain and spinal cord) diseases with olfactory stem cells.

These are adult stem cells that can be grown from people with diseases and used for studying the causes and treatments of those diseases. This is proposed for embryonic stem cells but will require reproductive cloning to do so.

How soon can these adult stem cells be used in human diseases? They are already being used by Professor Mackay-Sim and his colleagues for studying the causes of several diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, mitochondrial disorders, epilepsy.

By comparison, use of embryonic stem cells for this purpose will require approval and development of reproductive cloning, a much more technically demanding procedure that is still to be perfected. Some diseases, like mitochondrial disorders, cannot be studied with reproductive cloning because these clones have “different mothers” from the person - the eggs from which they are made do not pass on the same mitochondria, making them slightly different.

Adult stem cells can be transplanted back into the same person, avoiding the immune rejection met by embryonic stem cell transplantation. It is expected that adult stem cells will be used for cell therapies sooner than embryonic stem cells, provided the preclinical animal studies justify their use in humans. Professor Mackay-Sim and his team have started these preclinical animal studies of the use of olfactory stem cells as therapy for Parkinson’s disease.