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Researchers restore hearing in mammals by regenerating auditory hair cells


January 10, 2013

Researchers have regenerated auditory hair cells in adult mammals for the first time (Image: Shutterstock)

Researchers have regenerated auditory hair cells in adult mammals for the first time (Image: Shutterstock)

There is new hope for those of us who have overindulged in loud bands and dread the prospect of old age spent with an ear trumpet clamped to the sides of our heads. Researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School have been able to stimulate resident auditory hair cells to become new ones, resulting in partial hearing recovery in mice whose hearing has been damaged by noise trauma.

Auditory hair cells are located in the cochlea of the inner ear and are responsible for translating auditory stimuli into electrical signals that are passed to the brain via the auditory nerve. In mammals, (unlike birds and fish), once these cells are damaged, whether by excessive noise exposure, aging, infections, toxins, or certain antibiotics and cancer drugs, they do not regenerate naturally. This causes what is known as sensorineural hearing loss, the most common form of hearing loss.

While cochlear implants and hearing aids can help, they only address the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem. In a development that could someday lead to the reversal of deafness in humans, researchers have taken a drug that has the ability to generate hair cells when added to stem cells isolated from the ear, and applied it the cochlea of deaf mice.

When applied to the cochlea, the drug inhibited a signal generated by a protein called "Notch" on the surface of the cells that surround hair cells. This resulted in these supporting cells turning into new hair cells, which led to a partial recovery in the hearing of the mice.

“The missing hair cells had been replaced by new hair cells after the drug treatment, and analysis of their location allowed us to correlate the improvement in hearing to the areas where the hair cells were replaced,” said Dr. Albert Edge, senior author of the study. “We show that hair cells can be generated in a damaged cochlea and that hair cell replacement leads to an improvement in hearing.”

The researchers are excited at being the first to demonstrate that adult mammal hair cells have the capacity to regenerate.

“With more research, we think that regeneration of hair cells opens the door to potential therapeutic applications in deafness,” said Dr. Edge, who explains the research in the video below.

The team’s paper is published in the journal Neuron.

Source: Massachusetts Eye and Ear

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

As someone who suffers from selective hearing loss (I believe my infant ear infections destroyed some of the hair cells), this is welcome news to me.


This has been the fountain of youth that auditory researchers have been looking for for a long time. While this study is but a step in a long line of progressive papers on cochlear "hair cell regeneration" via Notch inhibition, it is a landmark study nonetheless... And it's not just hearing - but balance too will also ultimately benefit from this research .

Daniel Brown

Wonder if this helps Us with Tinitus to?

Toffe Kaal

Being partially deaf costs big money. Hearing aids are ridiculously expensive. I predict that this type of therapy will cost so much only the rich and famous will get the privilege of trying it. Audiologists will see it as a threat to their cash cow.

The biggest breakthrough in audiology is Peter Blamey's DIY hearing aids. They cost a fraction of other comparable appliances and do a better job.

Since I got my Blamey & Saunders hearing aids I have become an enthusiastic evangelist. Fantastic!


Fantastic.Been going deaf in both ears for 25 years due to menieres disease.Hope it comes to fruition in my lifetime[49 years old].Wonderful for whoever gets to be treated.These guys should be very proud.Would choose to replace these hairs over the ones lost on my head anytime.Can guess which is getting the most research funding though!


Toffe +1

Tinnitus for 35 years, now. Would love to lose some of it. Often a parallel affliction to hearing loss.

Ed Campbell

Re; nutcase

Look at LASIK when it first came out only the rich could afford it now anybody with a job and the discipline to save money for it can have it unless third party paying get involved.


Would that Dr. Edge included closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing. Although I am a senior citizen, and have some hearing loss, I look forward to having my diminished hearing restored through Dr. Edge's efforts. This is a great advance in hearing restoration. Origo


Very exciting. Just the thought that there is some hope out there makes my day. If it helped the tinnitis too, that would be icing on the cake.


Hopefully it will be able to cure tinnitus.

Dave Andrews

There are many out here who have almost completely lost their hearing, (even with hearing aids), and I am positive many would be willing to try Dr. Edges' new therapy in an effort to regain some of their hearing. I also wonder how this therapy is applied?


reallty hope this become cheap enough for me to afford it.

Micheal Donnellan

Being nearly deaf, this research is amazing. Let's hope it's affordable with little or no side effects.

Robert Moran

Exciting news for Deep Purple fans, let's hope that Tinnitus goes away as well, If it does then the focus should shift to eliminating recurring episodes of Banger Neck which I have suffered with since '73 : )

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