Scientists are currently coaxing sound-sensing cells within the human ear. These cells are known as hair cells. Growing them from stem cells, the long-term plan is to reverse the most common type of hearing loss, or perhaps even stop it completely.
Your Hair Cells Are Important
It is important to realize just how important your hair cells are to your hearing health. Unfortunately, they are easily damaged by excessive noises, ear infections, some medicines, or simply age. Since these hair cells are incapable of regenerating, their death can translate to a decline in the quality of your hearing. Over time, it is possible for the damage to cause you to lose your hearing entirely.
Over 20 million Americans are affected by some form of hearing loss, brought about by damage to these hair cells. It is the loss of these hair cells that accounts for more than ninety percent of all hearing loss cases in the United States alone.
The Opportunity To End Hearing Loss
A recent study, however, has left us with some promising potential. This study involved isolating stem cells from a mouse’s ear, recreating them in labs and then converting them into hair cells. Previous efforts produced a paltry 200 hair cells. The new research has made some considerable changes to that figure, raising the stakes all the way to 11.5 thousand. All of that from a single mouse ear!
Experts are already weighing in on the matter. It is their belief that this advancement presents some very exciting possibilities.
The Lgr5+ cells are stem cells that can be found in the ear as well as in the gut. Scientists then found a way to get them to become hair cells.
Understanding What This Work Means
While these recreations are doing a good job of mimicking many of the characteristics of inner and outer hair cells, it is important to understand that they might not be fully functional.
The next step is going to be creating enough to test them. Once this stage of the work begins, things start to get interesting. Researchers will work to find elements from the testing process that could prove to be useful, in terms of repairing or even fully restoring hair cells that have been damaged by noises, injuries, and so forth.
The ultimate goal would be the ability to wipe out much of hearing loss on a truly historic scale. Until then, there’s always soundproofing.