A simple injection could restore the hearing of thousands of people, after scientists successfully grew hair cells from the inner ear in the laboratory.
Most people go deaf from damage to hair cells in their inner ear, caused by old age or decades of loud noise. We have only 15,000 hair cells to last a lifetime, which do not regenerate in people as they do in birds and amphibians.
Currently the only solution for those worst affected is a cochlear implant, which bypasses the damaged area and stimulates the auditory nerve which carries sound to the brain. But US scientists have now found a drug combination able to grow large numbers of new hair cells in the laboratory. Scientists believe that a simple injection could restore the hearing of thousands of people.
They have created 60 times the number previously achieved, providing hope this could become a routine treatment. The experiment worked using cells from mice, and the researchers will start human trials in 18 months, planning to inject drugs into the ear to trigger hair cell growth.
Senior author Professor Robert Langer, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said: 'Hearing loss is a real problem as people get older. It's very much of an unmet need, and this is an entirely new approach.'
Around one in six people in the UK suffer from some form of deafness or hearing impairment.