Medical

Could hearing loss be treated with a shot to the ear?

Could hearing loss be treated ...
Scientists can now regrow the inner ear cells that convert sound waves to nerve signals
Scientists can now regrow the inner ear cells that convert sound waves to nerve signals
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Scientists can now regrow the inner ear cells that convert sound waves to nerve signals
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Scientists can now regrow the inner ear cells that convert sound waves to nerve signals

If you've ever been warned about listening to too much loud music, then you may have heard that the sound-processing cells in our inner ear are killed by loud noises … and they don't regenerate. Well, it's true. Known as hair cells, they detect sound waves and convert them into nerve signals. We start out with only about 15,000 of them in each cochlea, and once any of them are gone, they're gone for good. There may now be hope for restoring that lost hearing, however, as scientists have reported a new method of regrowing hair cells in substantial numbers.

Along with loud sounds, hair cells are also destroyed by certain medications, or just die off as we age. In the case of animals such as birds and amphibians, however, those cells do grow back. Inspired by that fact, a team of researchers from Brigham & Women's Hospital, MIT and Massachusetts Eye & Ear set out to see if the same could be done with human hair cells.

Using previous research on regenerating intestinal cells as a jumping-off point, they placed immature cochlear progenitor cells from mice in a lab dish – progenitor cells are like stem cells, in that they can convert into other types of cells. The researchers then added a drug "cocktail," which caused those cells to rapidly multiply. Once a sufficient number of those progenitor cells were grown, they were then stimulated with additional drugs to differentiate into mature hair cells.

When the procedure was attempted on an extracted mouse cochlea, the second step wasn't needed, as the progenitors were naturally signalled to differentiate. The process (which was also successfully tried using human cells) produced about 60 times more hair cells than the existing next-best technique, in which progenitor cells were prompted to differentiate, but a sizeable population of them wasn't grown first.

The scientists now believe that treatment for hearing loss could be as simple as administering an injection into the ear. To that end, they have formed a spinoff company to commercialize the technology, and hope to begin clinical trials within 18 months.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Cell Reports.

"Hearing loss is a real problem as people get older," says MIT's Prof. Robert Langer, one of the senior authors. "It's very much of an unmet need, and this is an entirely new approach."

Source: MIT

21 comments
LarryWolf
Sign me up for the trials!
Jerry214
Does anyone have any more info about Clinical Trials for this?? Or if they need test subjects for their trials??
Jacqueline
Hi, I would like to sign up for the clinical trial. Please me know, thanks
Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
Wow. This could make such a huge change in the quality of life for a lot of people, especially elderly people.
Nik
It was shots close to my ears when in military training that f-damaged my hearing significantly. So this would be wonderful if it works, before I take up residence in the local boneyard.
MQ
Word of warning..
Perfect hearing is a Grand promise ("Huh, what was that you said, I know it all too well."), but medical trials don't always go according to plan...
SteveStruthers
I wonder if a treatment such as this, if it ever makes it to market, would help someone like me, who has a sensorineural profound loss in the left ear and a moderate loss in the right?
David Anderson
I wonder if this treatment could have any effect on tinnitus...
bwalsh
I wonder if it would work for baldness?
HaroldBalsac
If the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain are the cause of hearing loss, this may not help.