Hearing loss occurs when the hair cells within the inner ear die, a process which is irreversible. A new study led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary may have found a treatment that regrows these missing hair cells.
A new study published in Nature Communications gives hope to the more than 48 million Americans living with hearing loss. Published last month, the study looked at a new strategy to induce cell division in the mature inner ear. The scientists were able to reprogram the cells in the inner ear of adult mice to regenerate hair cells.
This study is the first of its kind and may provide the basis for a new approach to hearing loss treatment—regeneration of sensory hair cells.
Senior author Zheng-Yi Chen explains, “This paper is the first to show that, by reprogramming, mature mammalian inner-ear cells can be induced to divide and become hair cells, which are needed for hearing.”
The Inner Ear
The inner ear of humans and most other mammals lack the capacity to divide and regenerate. Because of this, when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged, permanent hearing loss is the result.
These hair cells are responsible for transforming soundwaves into electrical signals, which are sent via the auditory nerve to the brain. Aging and exposure to loud sounds can destroy these hair cells.
New Treatment for Hearing Loss
Chen and his colleagues set out to develop a new treatment for hearing loss. He explains that, “It is essential to demonstrate that cell division and hair cell regeneration can be achieved in a mature mammalian inner ear.”
They used a reprogramming approach to cell regeneration by activating two molecular signals in the adult ear. They found that the mature hair cells can be induced to divide: “Our work revealed that reprogramming is achieved by reactivation of early inner-ear developmental genes so that the mature inner ear regains neonatal properties, which enables them to redivide and regenerate.”
This study was just the start. Chen’s laboratory is working to discover additional druglike molecules that can achieve cell division and hair cell regeneration in the mature inner ear of large animal models, including pigs.
While a practical application from the results of this study are far away, that does not mean your hearing loss has to go untreated. Schedule an appointment with the professionals at Houston Hearing Center to learn about the treatments that are currently available for your hearing loss.