Deafness Cure Helps Gerbils Hear Again: Will It Work In Humans?

By Amir Khan on September 13, 2012 4:59 PM EDT

Gerbil
A deafness cure has allowed gerbils to hear again, and researchers think the technique will work in humans as well, meaning deafness may be a thing of the past, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature. (Photo: Creative Commons)

A deafness cure has allowed gerbils to hear again, and researchers think the technique will work in humans as well, meaning deafness may be a thing of the past, according to a new study, published in the journal Nature.

Researchers treated 18 deaf gerbils, which have a hearing range similar to humans, with an injection of stem cells prodded to turn into ear cells. The success rate varied by animal, but all of them regained some of their hearing, according to the study. On average, they regained 46 percent of their hearing.

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"If this was a human patient, it would mean going from being so deaf as to be unable to hear a lorry or truck on the street to being able to maintain a conversation," Marcelo Rivolta, study author and researcher from the University of Sheffield in Britain, told Fox News. "What we have shown here is functional recovery using human stem cells, which is unique."

Deafness is primarily caused by a loss of sensory hair cells and nerves in the ear. These cells are created in the womb, and until now, have been impossible to regrow. The stem cells treatment can regrow the hair cells and nerves, which traditional treatment, such as cochlear implants, cannot always compensate for.

There are some risks associated with the treatment, researchers said. Although it didn't occur in the 10-week trial, stem cells have been known to develop into tumors. In addition, there is always the risk of the body rejecting the stem cells.

While there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done, researchers said the first human trials could occur within a few years.

"For the millions of people for whom hearing loss is eroding their quality of life, this can't come soon enough," Ralph Holme, an activist with the charity Action on Hearing Loss, told Fox News.

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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