New breakthrough in hearing loss research

Here at Western Hearing Services, we like to keep up with the latest developments in the world of hearing loss, whether it's a link with treating Usher syndrome, or new discoveries about the use of painkillers and hearing loss.

Today, we're taking a look at some exciting advancements in the world of hearing loss research, where scientists have been able to generate a high volume of the hair cells in the inner ear – cells that play a critical role in the hearing process.

A pivotal piece in the hearing loss puzzle

The thousands of tiny, sensory hair cells found in the inner ear are often the focus of hearing loss research. They are responsible for taking incoming sounds and converting them into nerve impulses that are then relayed to the brain.

When these hair cells are damaged, often due to trauma, overexposure to loud noise, or deteriorating with age, they cannot regenerate – impacting our ability to hear.

While previous studies have successfully generated new hair cells, they were on a relatively small scale, yielding only a fraction of the thousands of cells we use to hear1. However, a new breakthrough has resulted in the production of these vital hair cells on a considerably higher volume – a heartening discovery. 

From stem cells to hearing cells

Researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women's Hospital discovered that they can generate a much higher amount of LGR5+ stem cells, which can then be differentiated (converted) into hair cells1.

The LGR5+ cell is commonly found in the human intestine, where it plays a role in replacing the human intestinal lining every eight days. Its regenerative properties made it a promising prospect for regenerating hair cells.

"We have shown that we can expand LGR5-expressing cells to differentiate into hair cells in high yield, which opens the door for drug discovery for hearing," said senior author Dr Albert Edge.

He added that by identifying key cells, as well as the pathways and drugs to focus on, the team could use such clues to bring them closer to a drug treatment for hearing loss.

"With this knowledge, we can make better shots on goal, which is critical for repairing damaged ears," said Dr Edge.

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1Massachusetts Eye and Ear, New technique generates high volume of sensory cells needed for hearing. Accessed July, 2017.