Deafness Cure Demonstrated in Gerbils Using Stem Cells

    September 13, 2012
    Sean Patterson
    Comments are off for this post.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield have developed a possible cure for deafness that utilizes human embryonic stem cells, turning them into ear cells.

The researchers found that when they transplanted human embryonic stem cells into deaf gerbils, the gerbils gained an average “functional recovery” of 46%. This recovery took only four weeks from when the cells were first administered.

“We developed a method to drive human embryonic stem cells to produce both hair cells and neurons, or nerve cells, but we only transplanted the neurons,” said Dr. Marcelo Rivolta, Reader in sensory stem cell biology at the university and lead on the project. “We then used a technique called auditory brainstem evoked responses (ABR), which measures if the brain can perceive an electrical signal after sound stimulation. The responses of the treated animals were substantially better than those untreated, although the range of improvement was broad. Some subjects did very well, while in others recovery was poor.”

The specific type of deafness that the cells cured, researchers said, is similar to a human condition called auditory neuropathy, which is a deafness that occurs “at the level of the cochlear nerve,” and has to do with the connection of the ear’s hair cells with the brain. They estimate that 15% of the worldwide population with profound hearing loss have the condition. People can be born with auditory neuropathy, though the researchers said that growing evidence indicates factors such as jaundice at birth and noise exposure later in life can be risk factors.

“We believe this an important step forward,” said Rivolta. “We have now a method to produce human cochlear sensory cells that we could use to develop new drugs and treatments, and to study the function of genes. And more importantly, we have the proof-of-concept that human stem cells could be used to repair the damaged ear.”

Rivolta did state, however, that more research is needed, including research on the long-term effects of the treatment. He also said that auditory neuropathy patients who do not have hair cells might require a cochlear implant in conjunction with the stem cell treatment.

The study was undertaken with funding from the U.K. Medical Research Council and the U.K. research charity Action on Hearing Loss.

(Image courtesy the University of Sheffield)

  • karen

    PLEASE STOP “FIXING” the Deaf people!!!! Getting tired of HEARING people are CONTROLLING Deaf people. STOP. We are HAPPY to be Deaf. God made us Deaf PERIOD!!! I dont want YOU to fix ME!!! ACCEPT us for whowe are!! gosh! tired of hearing people asking me CAN you do this and that???? jeez.. please Can Hearing people fix Deaf? NO!!!

    • Mike

      You don’t want it! TURN the CHANNEL! FIX ME! I WANT TO HEAR AGAIN! I want to hear the birds chirp! The meow of a kitten! The sound of the ocean! You hunny can go back into your little room and hide under the covers!

    • Phil

      My wife lost her hearing during pregnancy. Having the technology to FIX her hearing would dramatically improve her life and return her to former standard of living. Correcting deafness can be a choice.

    • John

      Hey karen,

      I am deaf too and I DISAGREE with you. Stop trying to speak for all deaf people, you are not our speaker.

    • Friendofmanydeaf

      Hearing people want to help Deaf people who WANT to hear again.. If you’re happy Deaf, good for you. I know many Deaf who want to hear.. Also, saying God made you Deaf means God is cruel.. I’m tired of “big D” Deaf.. I understand Deaf want to preserve their “culture”. But let hearing people help the Deafs who want to hear

    • char

      I’m glad you’ve accepted yourself just the way you are but there are others out there who wouldn’t mind fixing their condition(s).. please don’t be selfish !

    • Wendy

      Speak for yourself, Not all deaf people like being deaf. Thats why they made Cochlear Implants.

    • jeff

      Not everyone is born deaf. Illness, accidents, and genetics play a part. No one is forcing this procedure. Options for those who seek help should be available. Just as cancer treatment, birth control and all other medical advances.

    • Jamie

      This is to Karen who posted her comment at 1:30pm on Sept. 13th.


      YOU don’t represent all deaf people. I have an 80% bilateral hearing loss and my biggest fear in the entire world is to lose the other 20% of hearing that I have left. Silence scares the shit out of me (except for when I’m trying to sleep, naturally). Besides, I know someone who is deaf, was born deaf, and wants more than ANYTHING in the world to be part of the hearing world!

      So YOU don’t represent the entire deaf community. All you represent is you, not anyone else, because everyone has their own opinion and they are entitled to that. Some DO want to hear. Some DON’T. It doesn’t matter.

      Aside from that message… I can’t WAIT until this becomes a real possibility. I’m so excited!!! I can’t wait to sing!!! <3 <3 <3

  • pts

    I would do almost anything to restore my natural hearing which I began to lose at age 30. Are there any clinical trials in the U.S., heck I would even travel to England to participate!

  • Deb

    my son has been hard of hearing with a severe hearing loss since age 5. He has a sensorineural loss which I am not sure this would help; need to talk to his audiologist. He is now 24 years old and I think he would be amazed at the sounds he would hear…..

  • B

    Way to go. I want my son to be a scientist so that he too can contribute something positive to society. Thank you all for your hard work and desire to help people.

  • http://fb Selu

    tramendious news more accurate then sugar and rice.

  • Matt

    I think there’s merit in the idea of letting people choose for themselves whether or not they would want this treatment. It gets very complicated very quickly when a hearing parent is asked to make a decision behalf of a congenitally deaf child. In those cases, I strongly believe that hearing parents need to be educated about sign language and Deaf culture *before* making a decision about whether to pursue a treatment like this.

    • Charles Slavin

      No…it doesn’t. Children are children. Those decisions are the domain of their parents, whether they are hearing or not. Actually…if a parent refused to let his deaf child take advantage of the best medicine has to offer with respect to restored hearing, that parent should probably have his parental rights terminated by a court since s/he is clearly not acting in the best interests of the child.

    • Barbara

      Have you ever “NOT HEARD”, parents have to make decisions for their kids every day, this one would not take alot of thinking about.

  • jeff

    Not all deaf people want to hear, but you don’t represent them all. Some do want to hear again, or the first time. Just as some people would like to see. There’s a lot of anger here. Mad at people fixing you. You got a chip on your shoulder. Your free to live your life but someone who wants to hear should have that option. We give boobs to people who want them, why not use medicine for good for a change?

  • milt hull

    I would love to have my hearing resstored if it were not to expensive and i am sure it will be.

  • milt hull

    I would love to have my hearing resstored if it were not to expensive and i am sure it will be.

  • http://n/a Christopher Jaijairam

    I believe that this is a great breakthrough for those who has severe hearing loss and wanted to hear again.

    Technogoly has come a long way for this new discovery.

    I have suffered hearing loss since I was a teen and am now 52 years old.

    I am using digital inside the canal hearing aid and am extremely happy to be one of the participant for this new found hearing problem solver for most of the people out-there in this world.

    Please let me know of a location near New York or else-where where this facility is available.

  • Mark

    Would this work for Tinnitus? Because I would love to get rid of that. But as someone earlier said, it would probably be very expensive.

  • Melissa Smith

    The National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders moves fairly fast for public relation purposes. Check out PETA’s video about the cat that the University of Wisconsin – Madison used during their research efforts involving deafness. I think the NIDCD funded the research.

    Seriously medical researchers, find better methods than harming animals. Check this video out. I’m not even a big PETA follower (although they’re starting to look rather intelligent at this point).
    Melissa Smith

  • Michelle Saul

    I publish a newsletter in Winnipeg, MB for an organization I belong for called CHHA – Canadian Hard of Hearing Association – MB Chapter. I was wondering if I could re-publish this article for our readers in my quarterly newsletter to be released October 1st. Please respond. Thank You.