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New discovery may help those without sense of smell

Narrator:       This is Science Today. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have made an important discovery that may one day help people who have lost their sense of smell. The condition, called anosmia, can be caused by traumatic injury, infection or just getting older. Neuroscientist John Ngai and his team identified a crucial gene that regulates stem cell populations of the olfactory system.

Ngai:              We found this gene called p63, and this p63 functions as a switch, in one condition it promotes self-renewal in another condition it promotes differentiation.

Narrator:       Self-renewal is the process by which stem cells make more of themselves.  Differentiation is when they go on to become other types of nerve cells, like the ones that act as smell sensors in your nose.

Ngai:              And so we're hoping that we might be able to intervene. For example if there's a problem as these stem cells age, maybe one day, and it's not tomorrow, we might be able to figure out a way to engineer these stem cells so that maybe they'll last longer or we'll be able to reverse these age-related declines in a stem cell therapy.

Narrator:       For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.