A University of Minnesota professor has discovered that stem cells may be able to be inserted nasally, which would cause less side effects and cost less than implanting the cells through surgery.
The professor, William Frey, has been at the University since 1974, and collaborated on the project with Lusine Danielyan of Germany’s University Hospital of Tuebingen .
Frey said this method of stem cell insertion involves putting nasal drops into the nose. The cells are carried to the brain by the olfactory , or smell, system.
Frey said he got the idea of applying stem cells through the nose from similar research done with Alzheimer’s patients.
In the research, Alzheimer’s patients were given insulin nasally, which almost immediately improved their memory, attention and functioning, Frey said.
The funding for the stem cell research came from both Frey’s and Danielyan’s laboratory funds; Frey said it would be hard to get outside funding for testing such an innovative theory; no University grants were involved.
Frey said stem cell intranasal delivery’s benefits outweigh both the expensive hospital costs — he expects this method to be ten times cheaper — and infection risks of having the cells implanted surgically.
“It’s like a night and day difference … in terms of the advantages of this [method],” Frey said.
This method is “extremely rapid,” Frey said, as the cells can reach the brain in approximately ten minutes.
Also, when injected nasally, the stem cells go directly to the brain through the olfactory nerves, and not by way of the bloodstream, where the drug would spread to other organs and possibly cause side effects.
“It’s a way of reducing the risk of systemic exposure and unwanted side effects,” Frey said, adding that the surgery method actually causes an inflammation that kills all but 5 percent of the implanted stem cells.
Biochemistry senior Anya Dmytrenko , of the University’s Student Society for Stem Cell Research at the University of Minnesota (SSSCR) , felt the stem cell research is part of a larger issue.
“It’s going to make progress I think … as the community becomes more and more educated about the [uncontroversial side] … of stem cells,” Dmytrenko said.
Public management senior and SSSCR founder Matt Hanzlik said this research is just one of many different stem cell techniques currently being researched.
“We haven’t come up with the sole winner, and I don’t think there ever will be, but it just adds to the great repertoire of knowledge that we have,” Hanzlik said.
Frey and his colleagues are currently working on demonstrating intranasal stem cells’ positive effects on rats with brain problems.
The next phases involve toxicology testing and then actual human trials, Frey said.
This phase is part of the process of getting Food and Drug Administration approval for the drug, which Frey estimates will take five to 10 years.
Frey said he and his colleagues are also working on intranasal treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I think there’s a huge future in the use of this intranasal delivery method,” Frey said. “When you say you can put an entire cell in the nose and have it go to the brain, that’s really shocking.”
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