Boston researchers have for the first time used a drug to regenerate the delicate hair cells that sense sound in the ears of adult mice, in a promising initial step toward a potential treatment for hearing loss.
Hair cells damaged by loud noises or lost during aging don’t regrow in people, but in the mouse experiments published Wednesday, the scientists coaxed new cells to develop, enabling the animals to recover modest hearing.
The deaf mice were far from cured; the improvement in hearing was much less than could be achieved by an existing technology, called a cochlear implant. But researchers not involved in the work said the results, published Wednesday in the journal Neuron, were important because they showed such regeneration was possible and suggested a similar non-surgical approach could one day be tested in people.
“What’s really novel is that they showed you can use a pharmacological reagent, basically a drug, to get some level of hearing recovery in animals in which they’ve lost their hearing because of exposure to loud noise,” said Matthew Kelley, chief of the laboratory of cochlear development at the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders.
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