Every human is born with some 15,000 hair cells inside the left and right ear.
When these hairs are damaged, they’re gone and unlike the case with other animals, humans are unable to repair them.
The damage to these hair cells is one of the major reasons for hearing loss, a problem for approximately 45 million Americans.
With this in mind, finding a method to repair or regrow these hair cells will be a breakthrough. A team from MIT may be on the right path.
Combination of Drugs that Stimulates the Growth of New Hair Cells
The team consisting of researchers from MIT, Brigham, Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear note that they’ve discovered a combo of drugs that encourage the ear to grow new hair cells.
The death of these hair cells may be a result of numerous factors, including aging, some antibiotics, chemotherapy, and exposure to noise.
The senior author of the study, Robert Langer who’s a professor at the David H. Koch Institute at MIT, explains that the loss of hearing is a real issue that comes with aging. It’s an unmet need and their approach is entirely new.
The team began exploring the idea of generating new hair cells in 2013 when they came across a discovery that they are able to create big amounts of intestinal cells and stimulate their differentiation.
With this in mind, they used the same approach on cells from a mouse cochlea and concluded that creating a big pool of immature progenitor cells is possible. When they had a strong foundation of cells, they added a new molecule set and this caused them to become hair cells.
Although the team prompted the cells artificially to become hair cells, this wouldn’t be needed inside an actual ear.
Exciting News that Offers Hope for Patients with Hearing Problems
Jeffrey Karp, an associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and senior author of the study explains that they just need to encourage the proliferation of these cells and then the body’s natural signaling cascade will cause a portion of these cells to become hair ones.
The treatment includes a simple exposure to a drug and the team is confident that it can be easily given to humans via injection.
Dr. Ralph Holme, the director of research at Action on Hearing Loss, says they welcome this exciting news and are hopeful it may help them restore hearing for sufferers n the future.
The current data is from cells grown in a lab, so additional research is necessary to discover if this method would work in actual human ears.
To speed up the process, some of the team members have started a company called Frequency Therapeutics and they’ve licensed the tech and plan to launch the human tests soon.