Hearing loss has become a widespread problem and has gathered a substantial amount of attention during the last few decades. It is completely normal for this problem not to be underestimated as in the UK alone, those affected from hearing impairment number around 10 million with a trend for increasing considerably in the near future now that many young adults are prone to hearing problems due mainly to noisy environments.
Scientists and researchers have been trying to find a way to help the hard of hearing in their struggle with hearing loss and find ways to alleviate their life via hearing aids, assistive listening devices, cochlear implants, etc. However, the ear is a complex organ and still no way has been found to cure sensorineural hearing loss or revert or stop the progression of hearing damage once incurred.
There have been different findings about the function of the inner ear and the origin of hearing loss and its possible treatment. In a number of papers and experiments, researchers consider the options for alternative ways to recover the delicate hair cells, the reason we hear. They are very few in number and difficult to isolate so it is no wonder that looking for solutions to treat hearing loss is a long and ongoing process.
One possible idea for regeneration and curing of hearing loss is stem cell therapy. It is still in its early stages but evidence from experiments on mice show some interesting results and the hope that one day, hearing impairment may be helped and normal hearing even restored. Scientists are enthusiastic because while hair cells regeneration is not possible with mammals, it happens in birds. This means that it may have been lost in the evolution process and eventually it could be stimulated and redeveloped again.
It has been found that under specific conditions, the supporting cells of the hair cells can overtake their function if the original cells are damaged. However, researchers are still exploring ways to stimulate these cells not only to transform into hair cells but also to act like ones forming the appropriate nerve endings without disrupting the delicate structure of the internal environment. Deaf guinea pigs have been treated with the gene Atoh1 that is responsible for this transformation and the results have been positive with some animals regaining hearing. Another gene, Rb1 known to halt the development of hair cells, has been eliminated in a mice experiment and the mice grew more hair cells.
The future of stem cell therapy looks promising as the possibilities for treatment look realistic judging from current research focused on stimulating immature hair cells and making new cells act the exact same way as their initial counterparts. Scientists also face the challenge of helping the human organism repair these cells and increase their survival rate. Moreover, the ear and its function continues to be investigated as it is not completely clear as to how and why the body uses certain cellular mechanisms to protect auditory cells. What is clear, however, is that it is unlikely that an approved therapy will be available any time soon.
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