What do the antibiotic gentamicin, the rock band The Who and old age have in common? They’re all responsible for hearing loss. Irreparable damage to cells within the ear called inner hair cells (say by a loud rock concert!) prevents sound waves being converted to electrical signals to the brain. This process is managed by hair-like structures on the cells called stereocilia. Growing new hair cells in a dish may allow transplants to restore hearing. Researchers investigated this possibility using mice. Stem cells from mouse ears were grown on a special surface to turn them into progenitors – cells primed to develop into hair cells but needing another nudge. This nudge involved adding support cells of the ear called stromal cells. The result, captured using scanning electron microscopy, was cells with bundles of stereocilia (pictured). Proving this can be done in mice provides hope for future efforts to grow human equivalents.
Written by Lux Fatimathas
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