A researcher spent ten years and finally succeeded in getting human stem cells to grow into two distinct types of cells—auditory neurons and inner-ear hair cells. And now he’s used the appropriate neuron-type cells to re-connect the inner ear to the brain. In other words, to restore nearly 50% of hearing in gerbils (whose inner-ear hairs had remained undamaged).
It’s very niche research, but it demonstrates that restoring hearing is definitely possible to some degree. Plus other research shows it’s possible to restore hearing to mice born deaf and yet other gene therapy research showing you can restore function to hair, eye and heart cells and smell in mice.
So much of historical medical research has focused on devising invasive, even barbaric methods of arresting sickness. We refer to it always as “fighting” disease, killing cells, conjuring up images of swords, bullets and bombs. As we continue to plumb the magical powers of stem cell and gene therapies, it’s encouraging to think of the balance now slowly tipping more and more toward non-invasive ways of restoring, gently giving back, quality of life to those who suffer.