Hair cell regeneration breakthrough offers new hope
Posted on Jul 17, 2017
As much as 5 per cent of the world's population is affected by the loss of the miniscule sound-sensing 'hair cells' in the inner ear1. With so many people dealing with this affliction, it is one of the leading causes of hearing loss on the planet.
Unfortunately, these hair cells can deteriorate due to a number of factors, such as certain medications, excessive noise exposure, ageing, and infections. Once lost, these cells do not regenerate on their own.
Research focusing on hair cell regeneration
In the past, researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear have been successful in regenerating these hair cells in mice, which partially restored hearing. However, full hearing could not be restored as only a small number of cells could be turned into hair cells.
Now, a new study has reignited hope for those who have lost their hearing due to lost hair cells.
A joint effort from teams at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to the discovery that LGR5+ cells can be multiplied to a higher volume, and following that, can be converted into hair cells.
In past studies, just 200 hair cells have been generated, which resulted in the restoration of partial hearing. With this new discovery, more than 11,500 hair cells were generated, which is offering new hope to those affected by this form of hearing loss.
How it works
The research is based around the LGR5+ cell, which has been used extensively in cell research for a number of issues. These cells are found in adult intestinal stem cells, where they work to completely replace the lining of the intestines every eight days. In past experiments, the same cells were used but there were not enough of them, so the new process has added a new step that first multiples the LGR5+ cells before converting them into hair cells in the second phase.
In the article published in 'Cell Reports', senior author Dr Albert Edge said that the breakthrough "opens the door for drug discovery and hearing", and will lead researchers closer to potentially creating drugs to treat hearing loss in adults.
"We hope that by stimulating these cells to divide and differentiate that we will improve on our previous results in restoring hearing," he explained.
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1Massachusetts Eye and Ear, New technique generates high volume of sensory cells needed for hearing, Accessed June, 2017