September 21, 2008

Stem Cells May Repair Nerve Damage in Ears

An Australian researcher says she is attempting to use stem cells to repair damaged nerves related to hearing problems such as deafness.

Eye and Ear Hospital researcher Bryon Coleman said stem cells could hold the key to repairing nerves traveling from the brain to the ear, meaning deaf people could potentially be able to hear in the future, The Age reported in its Monday edition.

"Fifty years down the track this might be one of many techniques -- we might not even need a cochlear implant," the doctor said of her stem cell approach.

Loud noises can not only lead to the destruction of tiny hairs inside the ear, but also can destroy up to 10 of the cranial nerves used to take auditory information to the brain.

Coleman said her procedure involves using stem cells to cause growth in such damaged areas and initial tests have been a success.

"We have transplanted stem cells into the (inner ear) and they survive, but we need to know if they work," she told the Age.