Better Late Than Never
Everything is louder on my mother’s side of the family. I love it. Before she passed away, my grandmother could be characterized with one word: “Huh?” She would say it like we were perpetually standing next to each other at an ACDC concert. My favorite part was when she would finally put her hearing aid in after waiting just long enough for the rest of the family to get used to yelling to be heard, and then ask, “Why are you talking so loud?”
I was young, and remember wondering if there was a way to fix her hearing that she couldn't forget about. According to a story on Medical News Today, a research team at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Harvard Medical School has demonstrated the regeneration of hair cells, “using a drug to provoke cells that live inside the ear to become new hair cells” to bring back partial hearing in deaf mice. It’s only a start, but better late than never.
“Hair cells are the primary receptor cells for sound and hearing,” wrote Albert Edge, PhD, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear, senior author of the study. “We show that hair cells can be generated in a damaged cochlea and that hair replacement leads to an improvement in hearing.”
According to the article, researchers used a drug that genetically altered cells in the ear into hair cells, marking “the first hair cell regeneration in an adult mammal.” As auditory hair cells do not regenerate naturally – not in mammals, at least – damage to hairs in the inner ear can cause deafness. The results of the study mark a potential breakthrough in the prevention of hearing loss.
“The missing hair cells had been replaced by new hair cells after the drug treatment,” continued Edge. "And analysis of their location allowed us to correlate the improvement in hearing to the areas where the hair cells were replaced.”
Will the physical difficulties of getting older one day be alleviated through advancements in medical technology? As research into regenerative medicine, stem cells and genetic medication continues, gene-altering drugs are poised to become a standard in treatment. The success of this study, even in a preliminary stage, shows great promise for the future – not only in the prevention of hearing loss, but for any number of complications rooted in anything from illness and disease to old age.