A recent study in the journal, Nature, has shown that stem cells may aid in curing deafness. At the University of Sheffield, researchers used human embryonic stem cells to reverse total deafness in gerbils. Although this treatment is not readily available to patients right now, it could help to treat patients within the next few years.
In this study, the cells were matured in the laboratory to set them on the right development path. This was followed by an injection into the cochlea—the spiral-shaped sensory organ of the inner ear. After ten weeks, about half of the 18 animals treated showed substantial recovery.
Dr. Marcelo Rivolta led the research and reported “Stem cells have been used in animal models of deafness before, mostly the mouse, with different results, but none have shown functional recovery. What we have shown here is functional recovery using human stem cells, which is unique.” This research is helping to form the concept that human stem cells can indeed be used to repair the ear.
This potential cure, however, is at its first stages of the trial. Dr. Rivolta said “There is still a long way to go. It’s difficult to say when we might be able to treat patients. We’re hoping in a few years, but first we need to understand more about the biology of the system and whether it’s sustainable in time and safe.”
Although the research may still be conducted over the next few years, this gives many hope which they did not have before. It’s a step in the right direction.
Dr. Ralph Holme, from the charity Action on Hearing Loss, “The research…is tremendously encouraging and gives us real hope that it will be possible to fix the actual cause of some types of hearing loss in the future.”
It is hoped that this breakthrough will eventually lead to more treatments in curing deafness.