The proof-of-concept experiments are a crucial step toward therapies that could one day treat deafness and inner-ear disease in humans, said the study, published in the British journal Nature on Wednesday.
The loss of these cells and the neurons they contain is the most common cause of hearing impairment and so-called nerve deafness. At birth, humans have about about 30,000 hair cells, which can be damaged by factors like infections, aging, genetic diseases, loud noise or treatment with certain drugs.
In most cases, damaged hair cells do not regrow in mature humans. But recent research has kindled hope that nerve deafness may one day be curable.
A team of scientists led by John Brigande at the Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland showed that implanting a gene known as Atoh1 into the inner ear of a mouse embryo coaxed non-sensory cells to become hair cells.
Earlier research had pointed to similar results, but this is the first study to show that the cells generated by the gene therapy are functional.
The production of extra, working hair cells in a mouse embryo could be an important step toward using similar therapies in human patients, the study by the researchers in US said.
Sources:The Times Of India