Some recent stem cell research advancements are giving hope to humans suffering from hearing loss. A group of scientists from the University of Sheffield have successfully treated auditory neuropathy in deaf gerbils through the use of human embryonic stem cells.
The group turned the stem cells into ear cells and transplanted them into deaf gerbils, which resulted in a 46% hearing recovery within just four weeks after they were administered. The hearing loss is very similar to auditory neuropathy, a form of deafness common in humans due to damage of the connection of the hair cells with the brain.
Some patients are born with it, while others are exposed later in life through factors such as noise exposure or jaundice at birth. Auditory neuropathy accounts for as much as 15% of profound hearing loss in humans.
According to Dr. Marcelo Rivolta, project leader, this is the first method that has allowed scientists to produce human cochlear sensory cells that could be used to study gene function and develop new treatments. But most importantly, he adds, “we have the proof-of-concept that human stem cells could be used to repair the damaged ear.”
It really is amazing what stem cells can do, and this 46% recovery rate has big implications for the future of human hearing loss treatments.
Image courtesy of University of Sheffield: Human stem cell-derived otic neurons (yellow) repopulating the cochlea of deaf gerbils.