A cure for deafness is a step closer after University of Sheffield scientists used human embryonic stem cells to restore hearing in a common form of deafness.
Turning stem cells into ear cells
In research funded by Action on Hearing Loss and the Medical Research Council, researchers from the university developed a method to turn human embryonic stem cells into ear cells needed for hearing - 'hair cells' that detect sound and 'auditory neurons' that carry information about sound from the ear to the brain. Hearing loss can be caused by damage to either or both type of cell.
Transplantation of the auditory neurons into deaf gerbils, improved their hearing by 46% on average. Improvements were first seen about four weeks after treatment.
As well as proving that stem cells can be used to repair damaged hearing, it is hoped the breakthrough – published in the journal Nature – will lead to new cell-based therapies in the future for some forms of deafness.
'Important step forward'
Dr Marcelo Rivolta, who led the project, said: 'We believe this is an important step forward. We now have 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.
'More research is needed. For instance, we want to understand the long term implications of this treatment and its safety.'
Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research for Action on Hearing Loss, said: 'The research we have funded at the University of Sheffield (External link, opens new window) is tremendously encouraging and gives us real hope that it will be possible to fix the actual cause of some types of hearing loss in the future. For the millions of people for whom hearing loss is eroding their quality of life, this can’t come soon enough.
'Today's cochlear implants provide a sensation of hearing, but they need a healthy auditory nerve to stimulate. By combining these devices with a therapy that repairs the auditory nerve many more people might be able to benefit from cochlear implant technology in the future.'
For information about how Action on Hearing Loss is funding biomedical research to develop treatments to improve the everyday lives of people with hearing loss.
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Notes to Editors:
Action on Hearing Loss
Action on Hearing Loss is the charity working for a world where hearing loss doesn't limit or label people, where tinnitus is silenced – and where people value and look after their hearing.
Our vision is to find a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. We fund research discoveries around the world and break down barriers to translate these discoveries into viable treatments and medicines.
We are also increasing the number of researchers in the field through our well established grant schemes, and providing important support for companies wanting to develop medicines and treatments.
Find out more about our Biomedical Research programme.
The University of Sheffield
With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield (external link, opens new window) is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, and 2007).
These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world. The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.
The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.
Medical Research Council
For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council(external link, opens new window) has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century.