From a mild loss of hearing to a profound impairment, deafness is a health concern on the grandest of scales, affecting up to ten million people in the UK alone. But scientists may have finally found an effective solution, and it’s been hiding right under their nose.
Whether it’s losing the ability to hear your friend on the phone, not being able to make out what your kids are saying behind your back, or having to crank the TV up to maximum volume, hearing loss is something many of us regard as just another grievance of getting old.
But the loss of hearing is, in fact, a major public health issue around the world, impacting the lives of millions of people and manifesting itself in a number of different ways.
For many, hearing loss develops gradually, often accelerated by exposure to loud noises. But it can also occur suddenly in what’s known as sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), brought on by the likes of infectious disease, head injuries, and circulation problems.
This makes deafness a very real threat to many of us, and a concern of the utmost importance to stem cell scientists – particularly at the University of Sheffield. There, a research team is currently exploring the use of tooth stem cells in treating deafness and restoring hearing loss.
The secret powers of tooth stem cells
Oscar Omar Solis Castro is currently studying his doctorate in biomedical sciences. The focus of his research is how tooth stem cells, or dental pulp-derived stem cells (DPSCs) derived from the soft tissue at the core of our teeth, can be used in the regeneration of damaged sensory neurones in the ear.
Castro obtains the teeth from dental clinics. To prepare them for his experiments, he removes the pulp from the teeth and places it in a culture dish. Here the cells are held in conditions suitable for their survival and begin to proliferate, thanks to a nutrient solution made up of sugars, vitamins, and amino acids.
The pioneering biologist is using established protocols and substances, such as NT3 and BN10, which can promote the development of new sensory cells in embryonic development. Castro adds, “The research tries to mimic the innate steps in which a neurone is generated.”
His research is grounded in a previous study conducted at the university in which a research team converted embryonic stem cells into cells similar to spiral ganglion neurones – the nerve cells which pass sounds into the brain. The researchers injected the cells into the inner ear of deaf gerbils. Just several weeks after the treatment, many of the gerbils saw improvements, and on average they were recorded to recover 46 percent of their hearing. This study marked the first time that stem cells successfully restored hearing in animals.
Dr Marcelo Rivolta, leader of the university’s current efforts in stem cell technology, comments on the gerbil study and their current progress in curing deafness:
“We believe this is an important step forward… We now have a method to produce human cochlear sensory cells that we could use to develop new drugs and treatments, and to study the function of genes. And more importantly, we have proof of the concept that human stem cells could be used to repair the damaged ear. These results should stimulate further research into the development of a cell-based therapy for deafness.”
Contact us today to find out how you can help safeguard the health of your children by storing stem cells from their baby teeth.