Repairing Hearing loss may become a reality, now that new research has come to light. Scientists have found a new and easier way to grow sensory cells within the inner parts of the ear, to encourage hearing.
Cells that can sense sound are called ‘hair cells’, these fragile hair cells can be damaged by too much noise, certain medicines, ear infections, and due to the process of aging. Since in humans, such cells are not able to regenerate, they eventually die out for good and people lose their hearing.
According to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 20 million Americans have discernible hearing loss because of either injury to such cells or because of the death of these cells. This means about 90 percent of hearing loss found in the country happens due to this reason.
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In a recent study, scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that stem cells could be turned into hair cells. They found this fascinating new development after isolating stem cells extracted from a mouse’s ear and learned a way to multiply them in a lab. Later they were able to convert them into the hair cells responsible for hearing.
They have been working on this project for quite some time now. Their past efforts in 2013 reproduced only a number of 200 hair cells. Now, however, this new technique has helped the team produce a large number of 11,500 hair cells, all by the source of one mouse ear.
Their paper that describes the advance research on stem cells is recorded in journal Cell Reports.
Jeffrey Corwin is an expert on hair and cell regeneration, he is also a professor of neuroscience at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Although he was not on the research team, he commented on the body of work saying he was impressed and thought it to be a big step in the pursuit of repairing the hearing loss.
The cells that were grown in their labs were similar to real inner and outer hair cells. These were however not functional, says Albert Edge who led the new research. He thinks the most immediate use for this helpful technique can be to help make a large number of cells to test drugs and to find compounds that can help heal and repair impaired hair cells. They could also be used for repairing hearing loss or regrowing the cells.
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Edge says since acquiring and extracting actual hair cells for drug testing is difficult and nearly impossible, seeing as they grow deep in the cochlea, these lab-produced cells could be of great use.
The research has given scientists enough reason to imagine a future where humans can fully regenerate functional hair cells; they think this could one day be a reality for many. Repairing hearing loss in humans could mean great success for science at large considering how difficult the pursuit is but if researchers succeed, people with hearing disabilities may finally be able to hear again.