Stem Cell Can Help
CIRM funds many projects seeking to better understand deafness and to translate those discoveries into new therapies.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) approximately 36 million American adults have some form of hearing loss.
One of the most common causes of deafness occurs when the cells that detect sound in the inner ear, or cochlea, lose their function. These cells contain highly sensitive hair-like structures that turn sound into electrical signals. The signals are then transmitted to the brain where they are interpreted as sound. If the hairs are damaged by injury, exposure to loud noises, toxins or genetic conditions they are no longer able to transmit sounds to the brain.
Researchers in California and elsewhere have developed ways of coaxing stem cells to form these hair-like structures in the lab. Their discovery raises the hope that hair cells derived from stem cells could ultimately replace the damaged cells and restore hearing.
Other researchers are investigating whether stem cells can protect remaining hair cells or be used to replace the nerve that transmits sound signals from the ear to the brain.