Hearing loss is a sudden, sometimes inevitable outcome for anyone with ears. So that applies to, well, pretty much everyone.
From losing hearing due to old age, to giving it up through blaring headphones – we’re looking at you, screen-staring millennials – it’s only natural to covet what’s lost. Hearing is especially vital, when you consider it’s our main form of communication, allowing us to interact and exchange thoughts and ideas with one another. Plus, music is great, no matter what genre you’re into (besides EDM…we just don’t get this trend).
Rediscovering the gift of sound has always been limited to hearing aids and cochlear implants, giving people that air of part-robot that may or may not be wanted.
Instead of those invasive devices, what if your doctor could simply take some extra cells from your body, and transform them into sound-sensing hair cells that could be transplanted right into your head, returning your long lost hearing?
WHO SAYS HEARING LOSS ISN’T ‘EARREVERSIBLE’?
Is there anything pluripotent stem cells can’t do?
Scientists from Indiana University employed the popular, versatile stem cell type to explore their applications to hearing. As you may be aware, pluripotent stem cells are like blank slates, possessing the unique property of being able to differentiate into any cell type in the human body.
With these flexible stem cells, the researchers were able to create actual, functioning parts of a human inner ear, complete with vital hair cells and neurons.
While true stem cell hearing loss treatments and procedures are no where near plausible – yet – this is the closest anyone has come to restoring hearing. No one has created the ear hair cells from human pluripotent stem cells before, marking another step forward in stem cell hearing loss treatment.
“It’s exciting,” study co-author Jeffrey Holt said in an interview with Gizmodo. “If we’re going to use these approaches in the clinic we’ll want to start with human stem cell tissue.”
HAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
The little hairs grown along with the inner ear parts add more than a sense of authenticity to stem cell ears.
Hearing loss is regularly attributed to damage to the elongated hair cells in the ear – they detect sound, and relay those sounds & signals for your brain to enjoy. Select animal species can regenerate these hairs when damaged; unfortunately, humans cannot. So scientists have been testing various methods, now looking to stem cells and other gene therapies, to repair them for years.
In this latest breakthrough stem cell study, the scientists took human cells and arranged them in an organic gel matrix – think of that old-school Jell-O you used to eat, with the unwanted chunks of fruit floating about.
The cells were then marked with a fluorescent gene that would display a distinguishable glow if they successfully differentiated to certain cell types. To change these blank-slate stem cells in to inner ear ones, the researchers added proteins to the mixture at the perfect time in a process that stretched weeks.
Keeping a watchful eye on the matrix, the little blobs in the gel slowly developed into parts of the ear. These parts included the aforementioned hair cells, which looked and acted correctly, as well as neurons, used to send the signals to the brain.
“If you apply these signals at the wrong time you can potentially generate a brain instead of an inner ear,” study author Karl Koehler said. “The real breakthrough is that we figured out the exact timing to do each one of these [protein] treatments.”
PLAYING IT BY EAR
Even though the grown ear pieces weren’t taken to the final frontier – being implanted into a human patient – it’s still a significant step in countering hearing loss.
“The idea, to be able to one day take a tube of blood and make your hair cells and implant is really exciting. I think it’s the future,” Eric Topol, Founder and Director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in California, who was not involved in the study, told Gizmodo.
“It’s a biological remedy to hearing loss.”
The study’s authors were careful to note that while the pieces are set, the transplanting stage is still quite a way’s off.
“It’s difficult to say whether or not we’ll be able to use stem cell-derived cells to rebuild the inner ear,” said Koehler.
Having said that, experiments and discussions concerning stem cells are never without ethical concerns.
The World Health Organization cites over half the world’s deaf cases are actually preventable. But, the resulting ‘deaf culture’ that’s manifested from the large non-hearing community is an identity people don’t want to lose through science. Some that have gone deaf simply don’t want to regain their hearing at all, according to a report by The Atlantic.
Again, these treatments are could be years, maybe decades away from being applied to actual humans with poor hearing. Still, experiments like these are essential in compiling research and data, giving us more insight into the applications of stem cells, and their potential in reversing the irreversible.
We unfortunately can’t help you regain your hearing with our regenerative medicines, but RegenerVate’s injection therapies can help with other body parts that’ve been damaged through sport, or wear and tear.
From tendon, muscle, and meniscal tears, to arthritis and other ailments, our injection therapy treatments utilize your body’s own natural healing ability to expedite the recovery process. Call us today at 1-855-847-3975 to schedule an appointment, or drop by one of our RegenerVate locations!