Deaf Gerbils hear after stem cell treatment
Gerbils are paving the way for exciting new treatments for auditory neuropathy, a currently incurable form of deafness suffered by 1 in 8 people with profound hearing loss. In this condition sound-receiving cells in the ear die along with the nerves that connect them to the brain. While sensory cells can now be restored, the damage to the connecting nerves is permanent. Scientists working at the University of Sheffield have now developed a way to convert human embryonic stem cells into ear nerve cells (neurons).
These neurons were transplanted into deaf gerbils, where a noticeable improvement in the gerbils’ hearing was seen within four weeks. The scientists used a technique known as ‘auditory brainstem evoked responses’ (ABR), to asses whether the gerbils’ brain could perceive a signal after the ear was stimulated with sound. A dramatic improvement was seen after treatment, with ABR responses increasing by an average of 46%.
This breakthrough has potentially major consequences for research into hearing and deafness. Dr Rivolta, leader of the scientific team, noted “We believe is an important step forward. We have now a method to produce human cochlear sensory cells that we could use to develop new drugs and treatments, and to study the function of genes. And more importantly, we have the proof-of-concept that human stem cells could be used to repair the damaged ear.”
Find out more about the use of animal research in developing treatments for deafness at animalresearch.info