Adult Stem Cell Research Could Restore Hearing to the Deaf

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Apr 6, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Adult Stem Cell Research Could Restore Hearing to the Deaf Email this article
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by Maria Vitale Gallagher Staff Writer
April 6, 2005

Bloomington, IN ( — The deaf may be able to hear again in the not-so-distant future, thanks to some ground-breaking research using adult stem cells. A research team at Indiana University School of Medicine is working on a way to restore hearing to deaf patients, using the patients’ own bone marrow cells.

The Indiana University group was able to transform stem cells taken from adult bone marrow into cells with many of the characteristics of the nerve cells located in the ear.

The cells used in the research are known as marrow stromal cells–a type of stem cell that leads to the development of fat, bone, and cartilage.

The research team is now beginning experiments to test whether marrow stromal cell transplantation can stimulate the growth of the nerve cells that are frequently missing from the inner ears of people with significant hearing loss.

“We were interested in marrow stromal cells because of their potential for use in autologous cell-based therapy,” said researcher Eri Hashino. Dr. Hashino was referring to cell transplantation in which a patient’s own cells are used in treatment.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study is just the latest to show the amazing capability of adult stem cells. In September, researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and New York’s Rockefeller University discovered stem cells from hair that grew hair, skin, and sweat glands.

Robin Lovell-Badge, head of the division of developmental genetics at the England National Institute for Medical Research, told the BBC, "It’s definitely a source of cells that needs to be explored. We want to find the best source of cells possible."

And researchers at Johns Hopkins University are starting a new clinical trial which is believed to be the first to use adult stem cells to repair muscle damaged by heart attack.

The first part of the study is designed to test the safety of injecting adult stem cells at various doses in patients who have recently suffered a heart attack.

Pro-life groups maintain the success of adult stem cell research indicates there is no need to use stem cells obtained by destroying human embryos.