Researchers Discover Possible New Therapy for Hearing Loss
Scientists are making significant progress in the development of a new, potential method for restoring problems with hearing loss. According to the European Journal of Neuroscience, researchers have succeeded in regrowing the cells of the sensory hair located in the cochlea. The cochlea is a part of the inner ear and its function is converting sound vibrations into electrical signals. The hair cell loss can be due to advanced age as well as living in an area where there is persistent noise leading to loss of hearing.
The aging population has long accepted hearing impairment as a part of life, with approximately thirty million Americans suffering from some degree of sound loss. However, research has shown that animals such as frogs, fish, and birds can regenerate lost hair cells.
According to Jingyuan Zhang, Ph.D., a professor with the University of Rochester Department of Biology, human beings are the only vertebrates who cannot regenerate cochlea.
The research of Patricia White, Ph.D., associate professor to the Rochester Medical Center University, discovered epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptors that play the role of activating support cells to the auditory organs of birds. These receptors foster and proliferate the generation of new hair cells when triggered. White speculated that this signaling pathway has the potential to be manipulated, to produce a similar result in mammals.
White says that the cochlea of mice express EGF receptors throughout its life, but not the process of regeneration of the related hair. She speculates that during evolution, the regulators of EGF receptor family signaling might have changed the outcome hence blocking regeneration of cells. Her research is aimed at promoting hair cell regeneration and their nerve integration, which are both significant for regaining hearing.
Research conducted by scholars from the University of Rochester Medical Center and Massachusetts Ear and Eye Infirmary (of Harvard Medical School), carried out a test on the theory that the EGF family of receptors could play a role towards cochlear regeneration for mammals. The focus was particularly directed to ERBB2 receptors found on the cochlear supporting cells. Some of the experimental methods used by scholars to activate EGF receptors included using a virus to target receptors, genetically modifying mice to overexpress an activated ERBB2, and the use of two drugs previously developed for stem activity to the pancreas and eyes.
The results of these research experiments revealed that activating the ERBB2 receptor pathways triggered a series of cascading events that lead to the multiplication of cochlear supporting cells, in turn activating other neighboring stem cell division to become new hair. In addition to impacting hair regeneration, this process also promotes integration with nerve cells.
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