London: Deafness caused by inner ear nerve damage may be cured with stem cell therapy, scientists have claimed. (Agencies)
Researchers from the University of Sheffield partially improved hearing in gerbils when nerves in the ear, which pass sounds into the brain, were rebuilt using stem cells, the BBC
The ear converts sound waves in the air into electrical signals which the brain will understand.
This happens deep inside the inner ear where vibrations move tiny hairs and this movement creates an electrical signal.
However, in about one in 10 people with profound hearing loss, nerve cells which should pick up the signal are damaged.
The researchers aimed to replace those nerve cells, called spiral ganglion neurons, with new ones.
They used stem cells from a human embryo, which are capable of becoming any other type of cell in the human body from nerve to skin, muscle to kidney.
A chemical soup was added to the stem cells that converted them into cells similar to the spiral ganglion neurons.
These were then delicately injected into the inner ears of 18 deaf gerbils.
Gerbils can hear the similar range of sounds as humans.
Over 10 weeks the gerbils' hearing improved. On average 45 per cent of their hearing range was restored by the end of the study.
"It would mean going from being so deaf that you wouldn't be able to hear a lorry or truck in the street to the point where you would be able to hear a conversation. It is not a complete cure, they will not be able to hear a whisper, but they would certainly be able to maintain a conversation in a room," Dr Marcelo Rivolta lead researcher, said.
About a third of the gerbils responded really well to treatment with some regaining up to 90 per cent of their hearing, while just under a third barely responded at all.
The researchers detected the improvement in hearing by measuring brainwaves.
The research was published in the journal Nature.
London: Deafness caused by inner ear nerve damage may be cured with stem cell therapy, scientists have claimed.