The team of scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), MIT, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear say they have found a way to isolate stem cells in inner ears of mice and convert them into auditory hair cells.
“They exposed cells from a mouse cochlea, grown in a lab dish, to molecules that stimulate the Wnt pathway, which makes the cells multiply rapidly,” according to a press release from MIT.
By re-producing hair cells, the scientists believe they can solve one of the major reasons for hearing loss.
“Each of us is born with about 15,000 hair cells per ear, and once damaged, these cells cannot regrow,” according to the release. “However (researchers) have now discovered a combination of drugs that expands the population of progenitor cells (also called supporting cells) in the ear and induces them to become hair cells, offering a potential new way to treat hearing loss.
“(researchers) have now discovered a combination of drugs that expands the population of progenitor cells (also called supporting cells) in the ear and induces them to become hair cells, offering a potential new way to treat hearing loss.”
The treatment could be used on sensorineural hearing loss, which is one of three types of hearing loss, and essentially refers to damage of the inner ear, largely caused by abnormalities in the hair cells within the cochlea. Aging is common cause for this type of hearing loss, as well as adverse reactions to medications, genetics, trauma to the head, illness, or exposure to loud noise (instant or over time).
“The ability to promote proliferation of inner-ear stem cells and direct their maturation toward an auditory hair cell fate is an important advance that will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery and facilitate translation of regenerative medicine approaches for restoration of auditory function in patients with acquired hearing loss,” says Jeffrey Holt, a professor of otolaryngology and neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in the release.
Frequency Therapeutics, a company founded by some of the researchers, has licensed technology and plans to begin testing the hearing loss therapy in human patients within 18 months.