Stem Cells Could Regenerate Inner Ear Hairs—and Hearing

By Rachel Cernansky | April 3, 2009 2:58 pm

ears.jpgStem cells may one day provide a cure for deafness, if scientists can build on recent experiments in which a British research team grew the very delicate hair cells of the inner ear from fetal stem cells. These inner ear cells are crucial for hearing but are also irreplaceable and extremely frail. The new study marks the first time they’ve been grown in a laboratory.

The use of stem cells is promising because they can become any kind of cell in the body, and could thus not only be used to replace the lost hair cells, but also any damaged nerve cells along which the signals generated by the hair cells are transmitted to the brain [BBC]. The researchers grew the hair cells from cochlear stem cells they’d isolated from fetuses, cells which are only produced from 9 to 11 weeks into a pregnancy. “That’s why deafness is permanent, because we don’t have the stem cells to replace damaged cells in the ear” [New Scientist], says Marcelo Rivolta, lead researcher of the study published in the journal Stem Cells. The stem cells were taken from aborted fetuses, with full consent of the women involved.

After exposing the cells to various recipes of nutrients and growth factors, the team found one cocktail that changed the stem cells into human auditory hair-like cells. When mature, these grow fine hairs that bend in response to sound energy, generating electrical signals. A second recipe turned the stem cells into auditory neurons, the cells which receive signals from the hair cells and transmit them to the brain, which translates the messages into recognisable sound [New Scientist].

The scientists hope they will eventually be able to use the cells to perform cell transplants in deaf patients to replace the hair cells and neurons that are damaged in a form of deafness known as sensorineural hearing loss [The Telegraph]. Patients who would benefit would most likely include people who have lost hair cells because of noise damage, and some who inherited hearing problems at birth.

Related Content:
80beats: Forget the Hearing Aid: Why Not Regrow Inner Ear Cells?
80beats: UK Aims to Create “Unlimited” Supply of Synthetic Blood from Stem Cells
80beats: One Step Closer to Embryo-Free (and Controversy-Free) Stem Cells
80beats: Revealed: The Genetic Root of Seeing Sounds and Tasting Colors

Image: Flickr / shareski

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: hearing, senses, stem cells
  • Nick

    It’s a good time to be alive.

  • Barbara

    I hope stem cell provide a cure, I have been deaf in my right ear since birth, also I have a rare eye disease, that is degenerative in the optic nerve, so I can’t wait for stem cell research to achieve great limits!

  • bird5

    There is a group of physicians, patients and other interested people working together to get treatment with adult stem cells legalized in the U.S. as it should be. Please ask your family and friends to sign up (“JOIN”), and get as many doctors to sign up as well. Please see The American Stem Cell Therapy Association site

  • Guy

    I have been dealing with hearing and balance problems for over a year and its been hell!
    So glad science is making progress in restoring hearing using stem cells and know that this science will CURE many horrible diseases.

  • Kyle Brooks

    I am Deaf myself and I know American Sign Language. It is a wonderful language. I wouldn’t give up my Deafness just to become hearing because I would be entering a drastically different community that I would be a stranger to.

    I just want to let you know that although the article is informative, the title is very misleading. It implies that this would work for ALL people that have sensineural hearing loss.

  • Ana

    Hello! My name is Ana and i suffer from right sided hearing loss due to an acoustic neurinoma surgery. Resolving my hearing loss would be a new life for me because i suffer a lot! I hope that this will soon be a reality and that my dream will soon become true!

  • Brian M

    I am not deaf but suffer from tinnitis due to impacts to the ears in my youth. I wonder if this would have the potential to help my condition as well?

  • nate

    its a horible time to live the economy is in the toilet and we think that spending millions on stem cells to cure hearing problems is a good way to sped our money. screw the stem cell research and spend the money to get us out of debt

  • Michael

    “its a horible time to live the economy is in the toilet and we think that spending millions on stem cells to cure hearing problems is a good way to sped our money. screw the stem cell research and spend the money to get us out of debt”

    I have had sensoneural hearing loss since childhood, and it has deeply affected my life and well being. If you had such a condition, you would be very grateful that someone out there is working towards a cure. I’m sorry that we all have a few less dollars to spend, but not being able to purchase a lexus pales in comparason to not being able to hear clearly. If this research produces a successful treatment it will not only bring joy to millions, but it will also stimulate the economy. Here in the US we believe in ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, and that is exactly what treatment would bring to me.

  • Kumar

    Hi, I am suffering from deafness from last 3 yrs. I just want to know the address of these researchers & hospital where they are treating patients using stem cells. Thank you.

  • Karl

    RE: Nate – Bad economy

    Research leads not only to cures but is an investment. When medical breakthroughs like this come along it creates jobs in the health care industry and thus, more tax money is made on the business income in the long term.

  • Kalthum

    Congratulation to your findings about stem cells able to cure sensorihearing loss. You are so magnificient. Keep going you all are the hopes of the deaf people and parents all over the world.
    As soon as I read the article above my tears drop because all these years I only hope miracles will happen to the research. May the good god bless your good job for humanity.

  • http://Google Renee

    This research is very promising. Using adult stem cells is a much safer route than embryonic. Hopefully clinical trials for humans is not far off.

  • neu

    “The CBR Center for Regenerative Medicine is collaborating with two leading medical institutions to initiate a research study that would evaluate using a child’s own cord blood stem cells to help restore or improve hearing that’s been damaged from injury or sickness.”


  • Sonali

    I want stem cell treatments to be available in New Zealand because there are millions of deaf people out there in New Zealand still waiting for stem cell treatments to cure their deafness and make them hearing now. I wonder if it has the potential to make deaf people to have normal hearing- 0 decibels to -10 decibels. I want stem cells treatment now because I want normal hearing so I can hear tiger sneaking up on me if I work in Zion Wildlife Gardens or I can hear birdsong. PLEASE HELP ALL DEAF PEOPLE IN NEW ZEALAND TO GET NORMAL HEARING NOW!

  • Richard

    You should look into rTMS which is electromagnetic in nature.

  • http://nvg SSK

    It gave me hope after reading this. I am currently reading some articles, because some of my
    friends and family suffers from deafness. I scares me to think of it that one day I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them. This gave me a little hope and I hope it can be used soon!!

    Therefore Thank you very very much!! you are making so many people happy if this works out!!

  • Wish a Whisper

    Will there be clinical trials in Phila? When? I am curious if there are any dangers of uncontrolled hair cell growth that hearing would be overamplified? I have sensorineural deafness in both ears. Speech discrimination is a big factor for me and amplification doesn’t solve the problem. This would be such a wonderful thing to hear questions being asked in a big audience, speeches from a large crowd, and hear all of the words from a sermon. These are all things that I miss. I am seeing all these posts, will there be more information?

  • mikep

    I wonder if it can cure hearing loss in genetic diseases such as Alport Syndrome.

  • Russell Cerminaro

    I read somewhere that a child who was born deaf had a stem cell procedure done that grew inner ear hair to help her hear. Is this true and can you find out thru your resources where it took place. I beleive the scientist or doctor who performed the procedure was chinese.

  • Erica

    I love reading about the new treatments on SNHL. I was diagnosed with autoimmune inner ear disease 3 years ago and its only getting worse. I am a mother of 2 and the third one in two days and my hearing loss makes me not enjoy life as much as I used to. If there is some type of clinical trial in philadelphia using stem cells I would love to be included.

  • anthony

    I’ve been hearing about stem cells for years. i hope there’s amajor breakthrough with all the bands and restrictions lifted so millions people can live the fullest life without the trauma of suddenly loosing their hearing. We need to treat people now….I’m just wondering why it can’t be sped up so we can all receive treatments

  • Chris Kefer

    Deaf in right ear!!! Please find a cure….I think the answer lies in the stem cells…

  • vadim

    My hearing in higher frequencies was damaged two ears ago after treatment with gentamicin.That was the most tragical failure of my life because my job as sound engineer is a big question now. Hearing loss is very bad condition which hold suffering each day, hour, second. Each morning i wake up and don’t believe that it happened to me,i thought i would jump out from danger, but….
    My high frequent tinnitus in both ears is louder today that two ears ago. I’m not gonna kill myself, but sometimes i have this bad thoughts. If this research brings us a cure and normal hearing, it would be a most important thing for the rest of my life.

  • http://stemcells Jason

    My wife has only 15% of her hearing in her left ear and 25% in her right, before we got married we got into alot of fights and aguments because of this. I would say “can you please do this for me and she would just say “ok” even thought she didnt exactly hear me because she thought that if I new that she was legally death that I would not marry her. She is an Egyptain women loving mother of two children and she is one of the kindest person or people you will ever meet. She deserves better.

  • madhu

    I had a son of 7 yrs old who is suffering from sensitive hear loss in the left ear.(because his inner nerve cells are dead)
    Could you please suggest what are the precautions to be taken.
    And till what age can he manage with only right ear working.
    Or is it necessary to do something in this stage only.
    Or can he manage all his life with one ear working or is there any need to do some cochlear implantation if available.
    Can u suggest me some solution.

  • shashi

    i have profound hearing loss, since from 3 years, due to doctors prescription of neomycin, now days my right hearing is also reducing, due to nerve damage, i used hearing aid but i have lot of speech discrimination, every day life is becoming critical due to hearing loss, really i wanted my hearing back to normal as i was in 2008. sometimes i feel to kill myself, but i am mother of 2 , thats why i am still alive, hoping scientists invent inner ear haircell soon, so that all the deaf people like me will get there hearing back to normal, and all deaf can lead a normal life as hearing people.

  • bernie

    I am very interested in the developments since 2009. Also I would offer my ears as test subjects. Is there any more news about this???

  • Lev

    ok its 2012.. Any progress? there are great new technology like iphones and ipads but its no fun when I have sensorineural hearing loss due to head trauma, plus Tinnitus ringing. It really destroyed my life and Im only 21, how sad. I hope this stem cell is real and will come out before im 60. nda

  • Lev

    OK anyone interested on the subject find me on facebook Vanya Levchuk.


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