More than 360 million people around the world have significant levels of hearing loss. About 70 million of those 360 million are profoundly deaf and cannot hear at all. Having hearing loss can make it difficult to work and may cause social isolation.
Researchers in the United States are using stem cells in an attempt to help people with hearing loss. A new research project being run by the Indiana University School of Medicine is using stem cells in an innovative way, exciting many scientists. Lead researcher Dr. Karl Koehler and his team have managed to grow human inner ear organs using stem cells.
Dr. Koehler explains: “Human stem cells have the potential to form any organ in the body, but they require special guidance cues at the right time to form a specific organ, like the inner ear,” he continued “After about three years of careful trial and error, we came up with a ‘cue recipe’ that tells stem cells to form inner ear organ-like structures. We call these ‘inner ear organoids.’ In the study, we show how inner ear organoids are structured and function like real inner ear organs.”
Researchers need tissue samples to test new drugs. Unfortunately, they cannot take biopsies of the inner ear without injuring the patient. This new method for growing stem cells into inner ear organoids will allow scientists to quickly and easily test new drugs or gene therapies.
There is no risk for the patient because the inner ear organoids are simply cells in a petri dish. Some of the drugs that are being tested may be able to regrow inner ear hair cells or regenerate sound and movement sensing cells. Details of the research project were published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.