A simple protocol for generating inner ear hair cells to restore hearing has been developed by researchers from the Molecular Medicine Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, and the University College London Ear Institute in the United Kingdom. According to an article published in the June 1, 2015 edition of the journal Development, the research study brings scientists a step closer to generating these sensory hair cells in large numbers for use in drug screening and cell transplantation.
Previous research has shown that sensory hair cells located in the inner ear are vital for hearing and balance and that, when damaged, they lead to hearing and balance impairments. While other studies have reported the successful regeneration of hair cells in the lab, the protocols used were complex and inefficient. The study conducted by the research teams in Lisbon and London was aimed at overcoming these problems by following a different strategy.
“We explored the extensive knowledge on the various regulatory proteins that control hair cell development in the embryo to design an effective combination of three transcription factors able to induce the formation of these cells,” said Domingos Henrique, PhD, the lead investigator on the team at the Molecular Medicine Institute.
Henrique reported in a recent announcement that the team applied a simpler approach to manipulating mouse embryonic stem cells in a dish, which have the potential to become any cell type. By introducing the three transcription factors, they were able to convert these cells into hair cells with comparatively greater efficiency than previously reported by other researchers. The team applied the same protocol to cells in the ear of a developing chick embryo where they were also able to induce the formation of many new hair cells, including in areas where hair cells do not normally form, which indicates that a similar strategy might work in vivo.
“Hair cells get their name from the bundle of hair-like structures that protrude from the cell,” reported Henrique and his co-authors. “These protrusions have mechanosensitive ion channels that allow hair cells to transform vibrational movements into electrical signals. We observed that the hair cells we produced are also able to develop similar protrusions, but with an immature and disorganized morphology. However, we have some evidence suggesting that functional mechanosensitive ion channels are already present in these cells, and that the genes expressed by normal hair cells and those produced by us in a dish are very similar.”
According to the authors, future work will focus both on improving this protocol to produce fully mature hair cells, and on applying the method to human cells that can be produced in large quantities for potential drug screening and cell replacement therapies.
Source: Development, Molecular Medicine Institute, University College London Ear Institute, DHenrique Laboratory
Photo credits: Molecular Medicine Institute; © Anyaivanova | Dreamstime.com
This is very good news and hopefully will find a solution to this growing problem! Hopefully sooner than later.
I have been diagnosed with Meniere,s disease
in my right ear back 10 years ago, have lost most of hearing in that ear. Still have tinnitus in this ear with balance issue the odd time when active. Have recently been getting tinnitus now in left
good ear i think due to virus due to cold. Hearing goes in and out.
looking forward to a positive solution.
Hi, This sounds so exciting!! I’m 59 and have nerve deafness in both ears since birth. Can we have an update on how far away we can have this done on humans
Thanks and keep up the great work
My 8-month-old baby has profound hearing loss. Is this a treatment for her?
Sorry to hear of your baby’s hearing loss. The potential treatment described in this article is not yet a reality for patients, but a future possibility. In the meantime, you should consult a pediatric audiologist to find out if high-powered hearing aids or a cochlear implant might be possible treatments for your baby. Here are links to articles that provide more information on hearing loss interventions for infants and children: https://hearingreview.com/2016/06/intervention-improves-follow-up-newborns-with-hearing-loss/https://hearingreview.com/2014/06/study-shows-infants-benefit-implants-frequency-sounds/
It really surprises me that we may be able to hear again [without the need for] hearing aids. Thanks for posting this.
Ooo.. this looks really good! I was born hard of hearing. Hopefully this will be soon after I finish university! Ahhhh! Hurry up. I would definitely have this test done. xD
It is good research. Does that mean hearing problems can be solved by introducing hair cells? Any application possible now,because i am suffering from hearing loss, and would avoid hearing aid. thank u DR R N SINHA RETD PROF OF MANAGEMENT WEST BENGAL NEAR KOLKATA INDIA
Thank you for your comment. According to the researchers, they are still refining the protocol in the lab and have not yet applied their methods to human cells, so I’m afraid application in humans is still in the future.