Many children are born with congenital hearing loss. Until now, there were only two treatment options available for them. They could either wear hearing aids from a young age or get a cochlear implant. But a third option is now on the horizon. According to scientists, human stem cells could help reverse congenital hearing loss.
The Path to a Potential Cure
In 2012, a team of researchers first studied the idea of treating congenital hearing loss with stem cells. They observed a group of mice who were all genetically deaf. After giving them a VGLUT3 protein injection, they were able to regrow their inner hair cells. This, in turn, helped restore hearing in these mice for seven weeks.
Over the next few years, the scientists have continued their research into this topic. By 2015, they were able to create new inner hair cells using bone marrow stem cells. The next step was to find a way to insert them into a person’s ear. According to the researchers, this treatment could become available in less than ten years.
Meanwhile, scientists at MIT have developed a gene therapy that could help grow new hair cells. They’ve only tested it on mice so far. By late 2018, they expect to start testing it on humans, as well. They plan to incorporate it into a new drug for congenital hearing loss. They would inject it into the middle ear, the same way they do when treating ear infections.
All these findings suggest that we are closer than ever before to having a cure for congenital hearing loss. If stem cells deliver on their promise, they may help experts in other fields, too. For example, scientists could also use them to generate cells responsive to insulin. As such, not only could this be a cure for hearing loss, but for diabetes, as well.