Complex hair cells and neurons needed for hearing has been the focus of some University of Sheffield researchers. They have found that they can encourage stem cells from the inner ears of human foetuses to grow into these highly specialized hearing cells.
The hope is to someday soon perform cell transplants to elevate one form of deafness called sensorineural hearing loss.
The most common type of deafness, sensorineural hearing loss affects more than 6 million people and accounts for 90 percent of all hearing loss.
At this time the only treatment available is cochlear implants. These devices can not restore the full range of hearing however.
The Telegraph reports:
Dr Marcelo Rivolta, who led the research, said: “The hair cells and neurons that give us the ability to hear are only produced during the embryonic stage of development. Once they are damaged or lost, they do not regenerate.
“There is a clear need for a therapy that can regenerate or replace these hair cells and neurons when they are damaged.”
At this stage of the research only animals are being tested. It could take up to ten years before the method is used on humans to restore their hearing.
Dr. Rivolta does encourage those facing hearing problems though with news about the near future.
“In the shorter term, these cells also provide us with a very good model for studying the development of human hearing and the effect that new drug treatments may have on them.”