There is some exciting new research is coming out of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. A team of geneticists there are working alongside others at the University of Washington and the Fondazione Instituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Italy and their research was published in 'Scientific Reports' in November 2018.
As the title of this blog says...we are closer to understanding how we might be able to regenerate or promote new growth of damaged or dying inner ear hair cells. What does this mean....reversing hearing loss and promoting new hearing. At present our only rehabilitation options are hearing aids and hearing implant devices.
Now this is complex....
(colour enhanced electron micrograph of a cochlea - hearing organ)
The research is looking specifically at the epigenetics in the inner ear. Epigenetics is defined as the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself. Essentially it looks at processes that alter gene activity without changing the DNA sequence. So for all humans, we are born with a lifetime quota of hair cells within our ears. As these hair cells die, this could be due to old age, noise damage, ototoxic medications, the hair cells do not regenerate, they can't. These epigenetic signals block regeneration of the genes. This is a completely normal process. If we are able to identify the complex mechanisms of this genetic expression and how they are controlled then we might be able to modify them so that repair or induce new growth.
How exciting to think that some day humans might be able to repair damaged hair cells and for those with profound deafness, maybe even generate new hair cells in order to hear normally.
I will update with the ongoing research so watch this space....