Turns out the key to restoring spinal cord injuries is up your nose.
Griffith University Professor Alan Mackay-Sim is a biomolecular scientist with a keen interest in the process of regeneration happening in the nostrils and how it can help repair the nervous system.
Sensory cells in the nose are exposed to a host of “stuff we breathe in”, as they are only covered by a thin mucus and tend to die off quite regularly, Professor Mackay-Sim said.
“In the nose, imagine what happens when those sensory cells die,” he said.
“The new ones get born in the nose and they have to make their way to the brain.”
“They support them and nourish them and promote that regeneration,” he said.
Professor Mackay-Sim and his team discovered this process could work for other parts of the body where the nervous system needed repair, such as damaged spinal cords.
He said these cells acted as a stepping stone to help regenerate damaged cells.
“They don’t actually make new nerve cells,” he said.
“They repeat the job of what they do in the nose. When the spinal cord gets damaged, you end up with a whole lot of scar tissue, and so that’s got lasting inflammatory things happening.
”Its foreign tissue for regenerating nerve fibres in the spinal cord.”
Other scientists have followed his lead and in 2014 the therapy helped a paralysed Polish man regain his ability to walk.
Professor Mackay-Sim’s research into stem cells has expanded beyond the nose and spine, with scientists trying to understand the biology of diseases such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and hereditary spastic paraplegia.
“If you find the difference [between diseased cells and healthy cells], we can find the drug that will reduce the difference and be the treatment for the disease,” Professor Mackay-Sim said.
Professor Mackay-Sim was titled Australian of the Year in 2017 for his decades-long work in the field and will be discussing his research on Friday as part of the World Science Festival, which kicked off on Wednesday.
At a media call on Wednesday morning, Minister for Science and the Arts Leeanne Enoch named some “science superstars” expected in Brisbane for the five-day immersive festival, which is focused around the theme of “humanity”.
“Among them are … world-renowned physicist Professor Brian Greene, NASA scientist Jennifer Wiseman, Australians of the Year Professor Fiona Wood and Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, and Australia’s favourite science communicator Dr Karl Kruszelnicki,” she said.
World Science Festival co-founder and physicist Professor Brian Greene said the aim of the festival was to fundamentally change how people engaged with science.
“When we immerse ourselves in the profound, beautiful and vital stories of science, and realise that science is so much more than what is in textbooks, it comes alive and speaks to who we are – an inventive, curious and courageous species of explorers,” Professor Greene said.
A future of easily replacing limbs, organs, and human cells is not such a work of fiction any more as science breakthoughs make this a reality.
Where humans go rubbish follows, but did you know this is true even in space? Everything from metal fragments to large ghost satellites are turning space into a garbage tip.
The Hatchery is your chance to get up close and personal with one of nature’s greatest miracles: the hatching of turtles, following from incubation to hatching live at WSF.
Overpopulation, climate change and energy shortages are just a few of the issues forcing designers to rethink how they design cities and homes for the future.
By Elora Ghea & Nicolas Huntington