Thanks to a new technology that is still a little wet behind the ears, scientists now have reason to believe that stem cells have the potential to restore hearing loss. Although the cutting-edge science behind this project is still in the early research stage, scientist at the University of Sheffield have successfully induced fetal stem cells to behave like sensory hair cells and auditory neurons, two types of cells vital to a functioning auditory system. First cultured in a lab, the stem cells are used to generate auditory-specific cell types which can then be surgically transplanted into the ear to restore lost hearing.
Until now, deafness was considered a permanent condition, since the inner-ear tissue used to detect sound can only develop in utero. If this tissue gets damaged, there has been no known way to repair it. But laboratory results from the research team at Sheffield show the new cells in the lab behave identically to normal cells in a developing ear.
The potential of stem cells to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s is still largely unknown, but these simpler, localized approaches — which involve fewer cells — may be the first step towards success. And that is music to my ears.