Hearing Loss Treatment Discovery
Scientists have discovered how to regrow sensory hair cells found in the inner ear - a finding that could lead to a new approach to treating hearing loss.
One in six people in the UK has hearing loss or is deaf. Most people will have some degree of hearing loss as they get older.
Age-related hearing loss
The main cause of age-related hearing loss is damage, caused by wear and tear, to the tiny sensory cells known as hair cells in the cochlea (the hearing organ in the inner ear). The cells convert sound vibrations into electrical signals. The cells can be permanently lost due to age or noise damage.
Hearing loss is usually treated using a hearing aid or hearing implant.
Researchers have now taken a step towards what could be a new approach to helping treat people with hearing loss.
It had previously been discovered that animals such as birds and fish are able to regenerate lost sensory hair cells in the cochlea. And now scientists have found how to regrow these cells in humans.
Research in 2012 identified a family of receptors called epidermal growth factor (EGF), which are responsible for supporting cells in the hearing organs of birds. When these are triggered, the cells multiply and new sensory hair cells are produced.
Regeneration of cells
This new study, from researchers at University of Rochester Medical Center in the US, looked at how these receptors could play a role in cochlear regeneration in mammals.
The researchers focused on a specific receptor called ERBB2, which is found in cochlear support cells.
They found that activating these cells triggered events which meant cochlear support cells began to proliferate and activate other neighbouring stem cells, to become new sensory hair cells.
Restoration of hearing
One of the researchers, Patricia White, said: “The process of repairing hearing is a complex problem and requires a series of cellular events. Our research is focused on finding a way switch to the pathway temporarily, in order to promote both regeneration of hair cells and their integration with nerve cells, both of which are critical for hearing.
“This research demonstrates a signalling pathway that can be activated by different methods and could represent a new approach to cochlear regeneration and, ultimately, restoration of hearing.”
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