Around 11 million people in the UK suffer from hearing loss. It can occur when we’ve overexposed ourselves to noise, causing damage to the hair cells within our inner ear or the nerves associated with hearing. Spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) are such nerve cells, converting the sounds we hear to neural signals processed by our brain. When SGNs are damaged, significant hearing loss can follow. By over-stimulating a gene called NEUROG1, which is essential for cell proliferation, researchers were able to coax stem cells into differentiating into auditory neurons (pictured in red, with hair cells in green) and in turn help to restore hearing. But, in doing so, they found that over-stimulating NEUROG1 also made the stem cells divide too quickly, which could be associated with an increased cancer risk. This will be an important consideration in future research into using stem cells to restore hearing.
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