Researchers at Keele University in North Staffordshire are going to be the first in the world to try and create new ear cells, which are often lost or damaged with old age.
Over nine million people suffer age-related hearing loss and more than half of people over 60 are affected to some extent.
The scientists noted that in some instances hearing starts to decline when fibrocytes, cells in the inner ear which tend to manage potassium and sodium levels, begin to decline.
After these cells have died and cease to function properly, other parts of the inner ear can progress to permanent damage, causing severe loss of hearing and possible deafness.
Dr Dave Furness of Keele University’s school of life sciences has been working for three years on research supported by Deafness Research UK and The Freemasons Grand Charity to investigate the causes of age related hearing loss.
Now Dr Furness and his PhD student Jacqueline Tickle have started the next phase of the research, exploring whether replacement fibrocytes and fibrocyte stem cells can be grown and implanted into the ear successfully.
If the research is successful it could pave the way to preventing age related hearing loss completely.
Dr Furness said: “We set out to explore why deafness occurs as a result of ageing and what we discovered was that fibrocytes, the part of the ear involved in managing fluid composition in the cochlea, do degrade due to old age.
“Once this happens, it not only causes hearing sensitivity to decrease, but has a knock-on effect on other parts of the inner ear. When these cells have stopped functioning properly, we think other parts of the inner ear begin to malfunction, leading to a gradual loss of hearing.
“If we can find a way to replace fibrocytes through stem cell therapy when they start to degenerate, but before other parts of the inner ear get damaged, we could potentially have found a way to prevent age related hearing loss.
“The second stage of our research is to do just that – grow fibrocytes in culture specifically to treat age related hearing loss. We’re still in the preliminary stages of the research, but are growing these cells successfully and the next stage will be to find a way to transplant them effectively into the ear.”
Angeles hospital in Mexico is at the forefront of medical research and is conducting several patient funded clinical trials using stem cell therapy. For information on taking part please contact us using the form on the right.