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Hearing loss: a significant public health problem

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Hearing loss is a significant public health problem affecting a lot of people and it results from a variety of factors including noise exposure, aging, toxins, infections, and certain antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs. Auditory hair cell replacement holds great promise as a treatment that could restore hearing after loss of hair cells.

"Hair cells are the primary receptor cells for sound and are responsible for the sense of hearing," explains senior author, Dr. Albert Edge, of Harvard Medical School and Mass Eye and Ear. "We show that hair cells can be generated in a damaged cochlea and that hair cell replacement leads to an improvement in hearing."

In the experiment, the researchers applied a drug to the cochlea of deaf mice. The drug had been selected for its ability to generate hair cells when added to stem cells isolated from the ear. It acted by inhibiting an enzyme called gamma-secretase that activates a number of cellular pathways. The drug applied to the cochlea inhibited a signal generated by a protein called Notch on the surface of cells that surround hair cells. These supporting cells turned into new hair cells upon treatment with the drug. Replacing hair cells improved hearing in the mice, and the improved hearing could be traced to the areas in which supporting cells had become new hair cells.

This is the first demonstration of hair cell regeneration in an adult mammal. "We´re excited about these results because they are a step forward in the biology of regeneration and prove that mammalian hair cells have the capacity to regenerate," Dr. Edge said. "With more research, we think that regeneration of hair cells opens the door to potential therapeutic applications in deafness."

Source: Science-Daily

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