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No Sense of Smell? New Discovery Offers Hope

Update Date: Sep 03, 2012 12:10 AM EDT

Using gene therapy experimentation, scientists have for the first time restored the sense of smell in mice with congenital anosmia (the medical term for lifelong inability to smell).

Previous studies have shown that people born without a sense of smell are at higher risk of depression and other social insecurities, ABC News reports.

According to the Anosmia Foundation over 14 million Americans suffer from Anosmia, and those with lifelong olfactory problems have reported feeling anxious and nervous in social situations.

What's more, people with the disorder are unable to recognize potentially dangerous situations, such as smoke from a fire or carbon monoxide emissions.

New findings from a team of researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School and their colleagues at several other institutions report that it will be some time before human trials can start, and that the breakthrough is more useful for people genetically born without a sense of smell (i.e. inapplicable to people who lost it due to aging, chronic sinus problems or head trauma).

Nonetheless, their work is a major breakthrough in olfactory medicine.

"Using gene therapy---we were able to rescue and restore olfactory function, or sense of smell," says senior author Jeffrey Martens, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology at U-M.

After just 14 days of a three-day treatment process, researchers saw that the mice were eating more, noting a full 60 percent increase in their weight, and saw that even at a molecular level, "function that had been absent was restored" at a cellualr level.

Because the study focused on genetic therapy on cilia dysfunction, researchers claim that the results have importance for other diseases such as polycystic kidney disease, retinitis pigmentosa in the eye, and rare inherited disorders including Alström syndrome, Bardet-Biedl syndrome, primary ciliary dyskinesia and nephronopthisis.

Martens and his team hope that their research "stimulates the olfactory research community to look at anosmia caused by other factors, such as head trauma and degenerative diseases,"

He adds, "we know a lot about how this system works -- now have to look at how to fix it when it malfunctions," through non-invasive procedures.

The study is  published online in Nature Medicine.

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