Indiana University scientists have created key parts of the human inner ear using mouse embryonic stem cells. The discovery could help hearing loss and balance disorders.
By using a three-dimensional cell culture method, researchers used stem cells to form inner-ear sensory tissue including hair cells, supporting cells and neurons, which detect sound, head movement and gravity.
“We believe these stem cells can be used to find new drugs that can protect the ear cells from damage, or nerve damage as well as promote cell growth after degeneration,” IU School of Medicine Professor Eri Hashino said.
Unlike previous studies, the IU team suspended the cells in a three-dimensional environment, which mimics the movements of the inner ear and provides mechanical cues such as tension from the pull of cells on each other.
Additional research still needs to be done before the stem cells could be used in humans.
Hashino says the next step is to better understand how to implant stem cells into inner ear of patient so they will be accepted by the body.
Ying Chen contributed to this story.