Regenerated Ear Hair Reverses Deafness in Mice

Regenerated Ear Hair Reverses Deafness in Mice

Mice

For the first time ever, tiny hairs in the ear have been regenerated to ‘beat’ deafness, according to US researchers.

A study by the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Harvard Medical School led to the creation of hearing hairs that help to detect sound.

Scientists examined mice that were completely deaf and had no hairs left in their ears. A drug was injected to target certain cells and transform them into hair cells. Although normal hearing was not completely restored in the animals, the mice went from hearing absolutely nothing to perceiving some sounds, like a door slamming.

The prospect of treating humans is far-off but experts have still dubbed the development moving.

Dr Albert Edge, one of the researchers, said: “It hasn’t been possible to regenerate hair cells in adult mammals before, this is very exciting. It shows for the first time that it’s possible.”

How does it work?

As humans, our ears collect sounds which are then converted into electrical signals. These are then passed on to the brain to process. It is the noise vibrations that move the tiny hairs deep inside our ear that create the electrical signal, and most hearing problems occur due to these hairs becoming damaged.

Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at the charity Action on Hearing Loss, the trading name of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), said: “The idea that a drug could be used to ‘trick’ the cochlea into producing new hair cells to improve hearing is tremendously exciting and offers real hope to the millions of people seeking a cure for their hearing loss.

“But, it is important to remember that this research is still at a very early stage and that only a partial recovery in hearing was observed.”

What happened?

Brain scans showed that the mice could detect a loud noise in a low frequency. Whilst the improvement was not huge, it was still significant.

The discovery is similar to stem cell advancement revealed last year, when the connection between the hairs and the brain were broken in an effort to rebuild new nerves.

According to Professor Dave Moore, the Senior Research Scientist of the Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham, this is a far greater challenge and he has compared it to trying to rebuild a 15-storey city building in the middle of an earthquake, without damaging any of the surrounding structures. Despite reservations though, he claims it is still a thrilling first step.

Hair cell regeneration originally started in the 1980’s but has since failed to fully materialise.