Stem cells used to restore hearing in gerbils
Rachel Kendall (11AM Micro) found this article from the Newsdaily website about the promise of stem cells in novel medical treatments. Here is Rachel’s summary:
For many years, scientists have been trying to solve problems or illnesses that people have in order to cure them. Many scientists work on cures for a variety of things, such as cancer, blindness, and deafness. Although they are trying in desperation to find a cure, many times they are unsuccessful. However, every experiment they conduct leads them one step closer to finding a solution.
Recently, scientists in London, England have made significant discoveries in the hopes of one day restoring hearing to “people with an intractable form of deafness caused by nerve damage.” Deafness, a loss in hearing, may be caused by nerve damage or loss, as well as a deficiency of cells found in the ear. After realizing that the cells that allow us to hear are only made in the womb, scientists decided to see if they could use stem cells from the embryo to treat deafness.
After deafening gerbils, an animal who hear mainly the same frequencies that humans do, scientists were able to try to restore their hearing by injecting embryonic stem cells. Although the results of the gerbils’ hearing recovery were not all the same, scientists had made a small breakthrough. On average, the gerbils hearing was “46 percent” restored. Marcelo Rivolta, a scientist at the University of Sheffield, claimed that “”If this was a human patient, it would mean going from being so deaf as to be unable to hear a lorry or truck on the street to being able to maintain a conversation.” This is a huge step in the right direction. When a person is completely deaf, restoring approximately fifty percent of their hearing will create a not only a dramatic, but also a positive difference on their quality of life.
Embryonic stem cells have been used in many different experiments in the past to heal nerves, and even a variety of problems. In a recent case, two women who had irreversible eye damage used embryonic cells to improve their vision. Scientists are hoping to cure diseases such as “Parkinson’s and diabetes.” Showing that we can improve cell recovery by using embryonic cells is a significant advance in the field of science.
Although the use of embryonic stem cell is as step in the right direction for finding a cure, there are many things that scientists are unsure of. Since the gerbil experiment was relatively short, a ten week study, there are some issues that the scientist could not observe, such as tumor growth. With those potential risks, scientists have decided to work on small areas that have “less cells” such as the eye and the ear in hope to move on to areas that have a larger number of cells.
With all the recent discoveries in the field of science concerning embryonic stem cell research, we are finally moving forward. Although there are still concerns regarding side effects, the experiment concerning the gerbils, not only gave us a new understanding of stem cell research, but gave people, who have a hearing loss, a new found hope.