Genetic therapy used to restore a sense of smell in mice

Sometimes I fear science is creating genetically superior mice who will one day take over the world. Not too long ago, I talked about a neuroscientist who had used technology right out of Star Trek to restore sight to blind mice. Scientists have now been able to restore the sense of smell to mice using gene therapy.

The mice used in the test were affected with a genetic disease eliminating their sense of smell. This particular disease affected microscopic hairs inside the mouse called cilia that allow them to detect chemicals in the air. Diseases that affect the cilia are also partly responsible for some diseases in humans such as blindness, deafness, and kidney disease.

A group of researchers led by the University of Michigan looked at mice in the test with a mutation in the lft88 gene that left them unable to smell. The scientists created a virus capable of infecting cells with a working version of the lft88 gene. The virus concoction was injected the nose of the mice on three consecutive days and proved successful in restoring the cilia and the sense of smell and the mouse.

One scientist involved in the experiments, Professor Philip Beales from University College London, said that the experiment was proof that we can get that gene back into the cells. After being treated with the gene therapy, the mice could use their sense of smell to find food. There is no indication on how long it might be before similar experiments can be performed on humans.

Dr James Battey, director of the US National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders said, "These results could lead to one of the first therapeutic options for treating people with congenital anosmia.

"They also set the stage for therapeutic approaches to treating diseases that involve cilia dysfunction in other organ systems, many of which can be fatal if left untreated."

[via BBC]