London: Stem cell therapy may one day enable deaf people to hear again.In a new test by UK scientists found that deaf gerbils recover their hearing after human stem cells were injected into their ears.“It’s a proof of concept, and it’s important because for the first time we’ve shown stem cells can be used to repair the ear,” New Scientist quoted Marcelo Rivolta of the University of Sheffield, UK, and head of the team that treated the gerbils, as saying.Spiral ganglion neurons in the ear convert mechanical sound vibrations into electrical signals that the brain interprets as sound.When these neurons get damaged or die they can’t be replaced. This results in a form of deafness called auditory neuropathy, which affects about a tenth of deaf people, according to Rivolta.Cochlear implants can correct the main form of deafness, which occurs when the cochlea loses hair cells that register sound by bending. But neurons can’t be substituted except through an expensive, risky and invasive procedure to implant an electrode directly into the brain.Now, Rivolta and his colleagues hope to develop much simpler treatments based on the so-called otic neural progenitor stem cells developed in the lab from human embryonic stem cells, the cells in embryos that can turn into all types of bodily tissues.
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