Stem cells cure deafness in gerbils

Tiny creatures have led to a big breakthrough in stem cell therapy research.

Dr. Marcelo Rivolta and his team at the University of Sheffield in England were able to moderately, and in some cases completely restore deafness in gerbils using human stem cells.

In one ear of each gerbil, the nerve cells that transmitted information from the ear to the brain were killed off. The stem cells were then implanted to replace those cells. After the cells were replaced, researchers watched electrical signals in the 18 gerbils’ brains when the critters listened to a sound, and found as much as 46 percent recovery in hearing on average.

Once adapted to the human ear, the treatment would only be able to help people suffering from a certain kind of deafness, representing between less than one and 15 percent of the deaf population. But researchers  hope this success will lead to expanding the therapy to others down the road. In either case, being able to successfully apply the treatment to humans is still years away.

Oh yes, and why gerbils and not your average lab mouse? Gerbils have a very similar range of hearing to humans, whereas mice hear at higher frequencies.

Photo: fwooper/Flicker

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