Ménière’s disease damages the inner ear causing hearing loss and vertigo. But despite being described in 1861, its root remains unclear. It’s thought that a third of cases are caused by a viral infection triggering an autoimmune response, damaging the cells. Unlike birds, we can’t regenerate cells in our inner ear; therefore, cell damage is likely to be permanent. Currently there’s no cure, but gene therapy – using a harmless virus to insert genes like those responsible for regeneration in bird’s ears into human cells – is being investigated. Here, fluorescence microscopy shows cell structures – sensory and supporting – of the inner ear tissue (red). On the right, and underneath viewed side-on, sensory cells are highlighted in blue, and in green are those that have successfully received the new gene. Getting sensory cells to incorporate relevant genes may one day be a means to cure or alleviate problems of the inner ear.
Written by Katherine Hardy
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