Dogs and cats hear better than us, but there is one household pet with which we are on a par – the gerbil. This rodent is therefore ideal for studying deafness. Over a million people in the UK are deaf due to a condition called auditory neuropathy, where nerve cells connecting the ear to the brain break down. Scientists studying gerbils have shown how stem cells could help patch up this broken link. Auditory nerves carry sound messages from the ear to the brain. Damaging these nerves in gerbils led to significant hearing loss. To repair this, human embryonic stem cells were transformed, using a cocktail of factors, into early auditory nerve cells. These cells were then transplanted into the gerbil’s ears. Some grew extensions into the brain, so mending the damaged link and partially restoring hearing. These findings bring us one step closer to stem cell therapy for human deafness.
Written by Lux Fatimathas
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