London, UK – Deaf gerbils have brought hope to people suffering from an intractable form of deafness caused by nerve damage.
Researchers have restored hearing to deaf gerbils using human embryonic stem cells. After treating 18 gerbils with complete deafness in one ear, the research team reported that stem cells produced an average 46 percent recovery in hearing function, as measured by electrical signals in the animals’ brains. Gerbils were used since their hearing is similar to that of humans. They were made deaf with a drug that destroyed their auditory nerves. They then received around 50,000 human embryonic stem cells, which had been treated with growth factors to coax them into becoming ear cells.
University of Sheffield researcher Marcelo Rivolta, who led the research, said “what we have shown here is functional recovery using human stem cells, which is unique.”
While an important proof of concept, the procedure will need further research to assess safety and long-term effectiveness.
The research was published in the journal Nature. The article can be seen here.