Washington: Embryonic stem cells of mice have been transformed into key structures of the inner ear in a breakthrough study.The discovery provides new insights into the sensory organ`s developmental process and sets the stage for laboratory models of disease, drug discovery and potential treatments for hearing loss and balance disorders.A research team led by Eri Hashino, Ph.D., Ruth C. Holton Professor of Otolaryngology at Indiana University School of Medicine, reported that by using a three-dimensional cell culture method, they were able to coax stem cells to develop into inner-ear sensory epithelia-containing hair cells, supporting cells and neurons-that detect sound, head movements and gravity.Dr. Hashino said that the team determined that the cells needed to be suspended as aggregates in a specialized culture medium, which provided an environment more like that found in the body during early development.The team mimicked the early development process with a precisely timed use of several small molecules that prompted the stem cells to differentiate, from one stage to the next, into precursors of the inner ear.
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