09 February 2009

Breakthrough: Inner ear hair cells generated through gene therapy

Using gene therapy on mice, American researchers have succeeded for the first time in growing the kind of inner ear hair cells crucial in processing of sound and hearing. The breakthrough is likely to lead to the development of a future therapy to successfully treat hearing loss, the researchers believe.

“Our work shows that it is possible to produce functional auditory hair cells in the mammalian cochlea,” stated John Brigande, an assistant professor of otolanryngology at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon.

Brigande and his team of researchers achieved the first successful growth of inner ear hair cells by gene therapy on mice.

Gene stimulating hair cell growth

Using a harmless virus, Brigande and his team transferred a gene into the developing inner ears of pre-natal mice. The gene, Atoh1, stimulated the development of hair cells, resulting in the appearance of more hair cells than usual in early post-natal mice.

This method may be a first step towards a therapy to restore hearing in humans, whose hearing loss was caused by defective or missing inner ear hair cells. But the road to clinical use is a long one, cautions Brigande. His next project is an attempt to restore the hearing in mice by gene transfer.

In the longer term, the gene therapy may be combined with stem-cell research, according to the Times newspaper in the United Kingdom. Stem-cell research has produced promising results with respect to possible restoration of hearing, as well.

Sources: www.abc.net.au; independent.co.uk; timesonline.co.uk.
Published on hear-it on February 9, 2009.

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