'Hearing Hair' Regeneration Improves Hearing in Mice
In what has come as a real breakthrough, scientists were able to induce partial hearing in previously deaf mice. This was achieved by regenerating what they called the "hearing hairs" in the ears of the mice.
The study was conducted by researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School and was published in the Journal Neuron.
To enable an individual to hear, the sound waves have to be converted to electrical signals which can be understood by the brain. When the sound wave reaches the minute hairs present in the cochlea in the ear, the hair vibrates, thus producing electrical signals which can then be easily deciphered by the brain.
In this experiment, a drug which induces the growth of hearing hairs was introduced to the ear. The ear was then monitored to make sure that the missing hair was replaced by new hair, and the area in which it grew was marked.
In the next step, the hearing capacity of the area of regenerated hair was documented. A marked improvement was noted in this case. While the mammals were still unable to hear clearly, there was a clear recognition of loud noises.
"We are excited about these results because they are a step forward in the biology of regeneration and prove that mammalian hair cells have the capacity to regenerate. With more research, we think that regeneration of hair cells opens the door to potential therapeutic applications in deafness," said Dr. Albert Edge, one of the researchers, in the journal Neuron.
Since hearing is a health defect affecting nearly 50 million people in the U.S. alone, the research might open a path toward the effective treatment of deafness. However, the researchers have agreed that it might be a long way before that can become a possibility, as a lot of fine tuning needs to be done and the process of regenerating hearing hair is a complex one.