Date: Monday 13th May, 2013
The UK is one step closer to combatting deafness after researchers at the University of Sheffield restored the hearing in animals for the very first time.
According to a recent journal, scientists managed to rebuild the nerve cells in gerbils to make them ‘hear again’.
The findings are a huge progress in the industry and have been dubbed ‘tremendously exciting’ by health experts, in the hope to treat deafness in humans.
Professor Dave Moore, the Senior Research Scientist of the Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham, told the BBC: “It is a big moment; it really is a major development.”
Why use gerbils?
There has been similar research conducted beforehand with mice however, it is reported that gerbils are much more comparable to humans because they hear a similar range of sounds. Mice on the other hand, hear higher-pitched noises.
Why is it such a breakthrough?
Around one in 10 people that suffer a profound hearing loss have damaged nerve cells. This means that their brain struggles to pick up the electrical signal that the ear produces, as the tiny hairs that move to create the signal are impaired.
As part of the research, the nerves in the gerbils’ ears which pass the signal onto the brain, called spiral ganglion neurons, were rebuilt and consequently their hearing was partially improved.
How did it happen?
18 deaf gerbils had a ‘chemical soup’ injected into their inner ears. Then the animals’ hearing was measured over a 10 week period and tests showed that on average, 45% of their hearing was restored.
What does this equate to? Well, the results have been compared to not being able to hear a lorry in the road to being able to fully comprehend a conversation. What’s more, it was noted that some of the gerbils had their hearing restored up to 90%.
But will it work on people?
Unfortunately, the development is still very much in its early stages and achieving the same results on a human is farfetched. Injecting the converted stem cells into a human’s ear is much more difficult because they need to face the right direction and be in the exact right position.
However, experts argue that the results are positive none the same; and that stem cell development is going in the right direction for success.
Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research for the charity Action on Hearing Loss, the trading name of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), said: “The research is tremendously encouraging and gives us real hope that it will be possible to fix the actual cause of some types of hearing loss in the future.
“For the millions of people for whom hearing loss is eroding their quality of life, this can’t come soon enough.”