Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stem Cells the Key to Restoring Hearing


Researchers at Keele University in North Staffordshire will be the first in the world to attempt to 'grow' new cells in the ear that become lost and damaged with age. Age-related hearing loss affects more than nine million people with over half of people aged 60 and above affected to some degree.

The researchers found that in some cases hearing begins to decline when fibrocytes, cells in the inner ear which usually manage levels of potassium and sodium, start to degenerate. Once these cells have died and no longer function correctly, other parts of the inner ear can become permanently damaged, leading to increased loss of hearing and possible deafness.

Dr Dave Furness, from Keele University’s school of life sciences, has been working for three years on a study funded by Deafness Research UK and The Freemasons Grand Charity to look into the causes of age related hearing loss. Now, Dr Furness and his PhD student Jacqueline Tickle have begun the next phase of the research, which will explore whether replacement fibrocytes and fibrocyte stem cells can be successfully grown and implanted into the ear.
If successful, the research could pave the way towards the prevention of age related hearing loss.
Dr Furness said: "We set out to explore why deafness occurs as a result of ageing and what we discovered was that fibrocytes, the part of the ear involved in managing fluid composition in the cochlea, do degrade due to old age.
"Once this happens, it not only causes hearing sensitivity to decrease, but has a knock-on effect on other parts of the inner ear. When these cells have stopped functioning properly, we think other parts of the inner ear begin to malfunction, leading to a gradual loss of hearing.
“If we can find a way to replace fibrocytes through stem cell therapy when they start to degenerate, but before other parts of the inner ear get damaged, we could potentially have found a way to prevent age related hearing loss.

“The second stage of our research is to do just that - grow fibrocytes in culture specifically to treat age related hearing loss. We’re still in the preliminary stages of the research, but are growing these cells successfully and the next stage will be to find a way to transplant them effectively into the ear.”
Head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss, Dr Ralph Holme, said: “Hearing loss increases vulnerability to social isolation and depression, and demand to find a cure or treatments to protect hearing will only increase with our ageing population.
"This research could significantly add to our understanding of what causes age-related hearing loss and help towards the ultimate goal of being able to repair damaged tissue in the ear and restore hearing.”

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