Isn’t stem cell research fascinating? I for one, am astounded with the recent advances in medical science we as a civilisation have pushed forward in the last 20 years or so. In the past, if you were diagnosed as being deaf, there was no cure, just treatments to help aid the problem e.g. hearing aids. However, new research from Stanford Medicine initiative have put to light a new scientific discovery to potentially cure deafness.
There are 4 key areas to the stem cell research process:
Stem cell therapy:
While hearing aids and cochlear implants can provide good recovery of hearing function, the development of a biological method to repair the damaged cochlea has the potential to restore normal hearing without any type of prosthesis.
One approach to restore hearing might be to surgically place stem cells within the cochlea in such a way that they would fuse with the remaining cochlear structures and develop and function as hair cells. Scientists believe this is a viable approach because, unlike most organs that are destroyed by disease, the inner ear remains structurally intact—only the hair cells are lost. By mimicking the steps involved in the formation of embryonic mouse ears, Stanford scientists have produced stem cells in the laboratory that look and act very much like hair cells, the sensory cells that normally reside in the inner ear. If they can generate hair cells in the millions, it could lead to significant scientific and clinical advances along the path to curing deafness in the future.
Recent advances in genetic testing have shown that 70% of the most common forms of hearing loss are caused by mutations in only three genes.
A simple approach is to use safe and highly sophisticated gene therapy vectors to override the defective gene with an intact healthy one.
One aspect of research in this regard focuses directly on patients with genetic causes of hearing loss. Here, our researchers work on generating disease models from patient-derived stem cells that can be used in the laboratory to develop safe and effective gene therapy treatments. The goal is to translate these findings into first clinical trials within a time frame of ten years.
Millions of novel drugs or compounds have never been tested for ability to prevent hearing loss or for hearing restoration. The goal of our research team is to develop novel tests for drugs that do not require working with laboratory animals. By moving drug tests from animals into the cell culture dish, we will be able to test hundreds of thousand or even millions of drugs in the next decade.
Use of human cells instead of animal cells or use of patient-derived cells will enable us to directly test efficacy of novel drugs directly on human cells, which will expedite translation of the results from the laboratory bench to the patient.
This research could lead to strategies that stimulate cochlear nerve growth and function and it might result, in the long run, in better working cochlear implants.
Targeted neural stimulation:
The only available treatment option for most types of hearing loss is a hearing aid. While hearing aids make sounds louder, they do not make speech clearer. Thus, many users of hearing aids are frustrated when they cannot understand what people are saying, particularly in the presence of background noise. This is because, in a hearing-impaired cochlea, auditory nerves are not stimulated in a normal pattern.
Stanford researchers are studying how the normal cochlea first detects and then changes the mechanical sound pressure waves before the auditory nerve is even stimulated. This process is termed “cochlear amplification” and it occurs when outer hair cells selectively amplify and sharpen the frequency response of the cochlea. When outer hair cells are lost, such as in most common causes of hearing loss like age-related and noise-induced hearing loss, the cochlea can still detect sounds but the nuances of speech are not detected. In particular, more neurons are stimulated than should be, which is often noticed by the patient as a severe discomfort to loud sounds.
By studying normal-hearing and hearing-impaired animal models, the research team hopes to improve treatments for hearing loss by learning how to recreate a normal vibratory pattern within a hearing-impaired cochlea.
Hopefully in the next 10 years or so, we will have a hearing loss treatment which has successful passed clinical & human trials and will be made available through private hospitals etc. As expected, I can imagine the costs for this particular kind of treatment are going to be astronomically expensive. Nevertheless, with this groundbreaking treatment, what do you expect.
Stem cell regeneration is the future.
If you are suffering from symptoms of hearing loss that you believe may be the fault of your former (or current) employer, then please get in touch today on 0844 499 9302.
Alternatively, check out our Industrial diseases page to make a claim.
Stanford biomedical researchers continue to make rapid progress in understanding deafness and are designing and applying new insights in stem cell proliferation, regenerative medicine, bioengineering, nanotechnology, and other specialties to restore hearing.