Stem cell therapy may be effective in restoring hearing to the deaf, researchers at the U.K.'s University of Sheffield said, after partial hearing was restored to deaf gerbils using human embryonic cells.
Lead researcher Marcelo Rivolta and his team used human stem cells to grow otic (ear) progenitor cells in gerbils. They were created by placing the cells in a test tube containing molecules present at the early stages of ear cell growth.
The cells were then engineered to grow into hair cells, which are used to convert vibrations into sound. Damaged hair cells are a common cause of deafness. However, using the technique to treat humans is still far off, researchers said.
"We have concentrated on trying to fix the problem at the neuronal level. The cochlear implant is a device that functionally replaces the hair cell - it takes sound and transforms it into an electrical signal," Rivolta said in a press release. "But for the cochlear implant to work, you have to have a good connection to the brain."
The new data appears in the September 12 edition of the journal Nature.
by RTT Staff Writer
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