Another advance in hearing restoration

Lately, there has been a lot of SPAM being sent out that claims to sell product(s) that will restore hearing loss. I’m here to tell you that its nothing but a scam masquerading under the recent advances in science.

As many of you know, I suffer from profound hearing loss due to an ototoxic drug reaction as a child. I have previous written about my trials and triumphs in “How I got my life back – my hearing has been restored to near-normal” and I’ve mentioned a similar effort at the University of Kansas to restore hair cells in the cochlea, something that if it becomes a reality, will cure me. I present this latest encouraging advance in science for all of my interested readers. (via Eurekalert) As our friend Josh put it “isn’t science wonderful?”.

Stereocilia on an auditory hair cell.  Pseudocolored scanning EM image. Image: Edwin W. Rubel

Stereocilia on an auditory hair cell. Pseudocolored scanning EM image. Image: Edwin W. Rubel

Simple recipe to make sensory hair cells in the ear

The Company of Biologists

Scientists at the Molecular Medicine Institute in Lisbon, Portugal, and at the University College London Ear Institute, United Kingdom, have developed a simple and efficient protocol to generate inner ear hair cells, the cells responsible for our hearing and sense of balance. This study is an important step for the future production of large numbers of these cells for use in cell transplantation therapies or large-scale drug screens. The research has just been published in the scientific journal Development at

Sensory hair cells located in the inner ear are vital for our sense of hearing and balance. As these cells are unable to regenerate, millions of people worldwide have permanent hearing and balance impairments. Previous studies had already reported the successful generation of hair cells in the lab, but the protocols used were complex and inefficient. To overcome these problems, the team led by Domingos Henrique, whose Neural Development lab is also associated with the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, decided to follow a different strategy. “We explored the extensive knowledge on the various regulatory proteins that control hair cell development in the embryo to design an effective combination of three transcription factors able to induce the formation of these cells”, said Dr Henrique and Aida Costa, the graduate student involved in the work.

The team applied this simpler approach to mouse embryonic stem cells in a dish, which have the potential to become any cell type. They were able to convert these cells into hair cells, more successfully and with higher efficiencies than previously reported. Excitingly, when the team added the three players to cells in the ear of a developing chick embryo they were also able to induce the formation of many new hair cells, including in areas where they do not form normally, suggesting that a similar strategy might work in vivo.

“Hair cells get their name from the bundle of hair-like structures that protrude from the cell. These protrusions have mechanosensitive ion channels that allow hair cells to transform vibrational movements into electrical signals. We observed that the hair cells we produced are also able to develop similar protrusions, but with an immature and disorganized morphology”, said the authors. “However, we have some evidence suggesting that functional mechanosensitive ion channels are already present in these cells, and that the genes expressed by normal hair cells and those produced by us in a dish are very similar.”

Future work will focus both on improving this protocol to produce fully mature hair cells, and on applying the method to human cells that can be produced in large quantities. “Producing large numbers of hair cells will allow the development of high-throughput drug screening to discover new compounds that can promote hair cell regeneration. In the long term, they can also be used as a starting point to develop cell replacement therapies that could successfully restore the lost or damaged hair cells in the inner ear”, conclude the authors.


If reporting this story, please mention Development as the source and, if reporting online, please carry a link to:


Costa, A., Sanchez-Guardado, L., Juniat, S., Gale, J. E., Daudet, N., Henrique, D. (2015). Generation of sensory hair cells by genetic programming with a combination of transcription factors. Development, 11, 1948-1959.

44 thoughts on “Another advance in hearing restoration

  1. Maybe the prime qualification(s) for believers is then to be dead dumb and blind, there had to be a reason(s) for their mendacity.

  2. I wonder how much money our federal government spends on research like this (which would help countless millions of people) versus the amount spent on “climate science”.

    • If they can perform this complex process of re-growing hair cells in the ears, maybe they can next figure out a simple method for re-growing the hairs on my head!

  3. Best of good fortune to YOU too, as scientists continue their relentless search into things that make real differences. Imaging what a shift from concentration on CO2 into funding biological research could do for the world!!!

    • Likewise – all the very best on this Ant0n-why.
      I feel my imperfections – knees, mostly – multiply with the years, and anything that will help anyone’s varied challenges is welcomed.

  4. Anthony, amongst the scammers are the purveyors of promises from embryonic stem cells.
    Since the beginning of stem cell research, there have been no successful treatments demonstrated using embryonic stem cells. There is a good reason for that. The embryonic cells are insufficiently differentiated such to produce a stable outcome.
    Somatic & Blood stem cell research on the other hand has yielded >100 of FDA and CE approved therapies. The donor of the body and blood cells is the recipient of the transformed cells. The cells of the patient are taken, treated, converted into stem cells, the caused to transform into the target variety. It is a very controlled process that yield reliable results.
    One would think that embryonic stem cell inherently would be better. However embryonic cells have a “mind” of their own and produce any assortment of cell type clusters, and upon implantation yield weird little tumors.
    Therapy is about control and repeatability. When a person submits their body to treatment they have an expectation of an outcome and the outcome needs to be precisely predictable. Embryonic stem cell therapies (none of which are approved) are total chaos.
    The scammers who delve into embryonic stem cell promises are doing a disservice to people who need a reliable treatment. The absolute best bet are the somatic and blood type adult cell therapies. They are 100% repeatable.

  5. Great news Anthony.
    And keep these off-topic updates coming.
    I was late finding out about the Kansas trial and would have been an ideal candidate. Many hairs destroyed by 20 years of jet noise involved with serving our country.
    Feel free to contact me anytime.
    Lastly, all the pictures I see show a homogeneous structure of the hairs, re length and diameter. I would have imagined thick and thin and long and short ( frequency and dB sensors). Oh well, many of mine are pulverized, severely limiting my 2500 to 5000 hz range. Perhaps I have more of a neurological transmission problem than physical destruction of the sensor hairs.
    Gums sends…

    • Frequency is revealed by the standing waves in the cochlea or in other words where locate, intensity by the number of hairs that vibrate.
      It is these standing waves that destroy hairs in certain locations of your cochlea where the standing waves exist for long periods of time (jet engines, as you say, but also the persistent 400 Hz whine of avionics). For me it was being around computers (a computer room is amazingly noisy even though it doesn’t seem so) and also turboprop noise from my Navy career.

      • Thanks, Mike
        I had always figured the frequency sensors were a different length or maybe diameter.
        Trouble with distruction of those things is not what people think. When I first hear the “tone” it is “loud”, and not like far off in the distance. Go figure. So my solution is an implant of some type or to grow more hairs.
        Gums sends…

  6. I hope it works and I hope you get to personally benefit.
    I’d hope that many who disagree with you would agree with that!

  7. Thanks, we hope for success.
    But I’m puzzled at wording. I think you’re saying that there are many scammers about however this research has much promise.
    As for “genetically engineered’, doesn’t that create a dreaded GMO? /sarc
    We certainly accepted noise decades ago. I remember looking into replacing rotary inverters in the CV640 airliner, but with redundancy and low cost of repair I couldn’t make a business case. They were noisy but the whole airplane was – a turboprop without propeller synchronizing (probably better than the piston engines in the original).

    • The scammers promise to restore hearing right now. This study shows that the latest science isn’t yet capable of that.

  8. Anthony! You sound great!! I had been out of the Chico area since Fall ’13 doing work at the University of Utah and had not heard your weather reports on KPAY in a while. Before I left I noticed your speech was clearly affected by your hearing loss and I hoped you would be able to continue in radio/TV despite that. I was in NoCal last week and heard your on the hour forecast. I was so happy to hear no hint of an impediment, consonants as clear as a bell. I thought some treatment must have been successful. Congratulations, I’m truly happy for you.

  9. Always good to hear of useful research going on, my wife has MS (Multiple Sclerosis) which is as she describes it not a disease to be recommended and the number of therapies both mainstream and alternative are huge, and because so little is known of the cause and sometimes progress of the condition some work for some patients and not for others, we have a local group that meets for mutual support and fun and the talk is sometimes of what worked for one and not another also some will have major improvements and others only minor changes in their condition, This make it much harder for those trying to do research into treatments. I do know of several people who have benefited from stem cells harvested from them being injected into different areas affected by their MS.
    All The Best
    James Bull

    • Such very good news that people like Anthony are being liberated from deafness by rigorous scientific research. Now, if we could only introduce the same rigor to climate science …

  10. Thanks for the article! I missed the original article due to a family emergency, and my husband suffers from progressive hearing loss. He, too, had an ototoxic drug. He’s become increasingly socially isolated so that he only talks with the (immediate) family. We never go out with friends. We rarely go out to a restaurant because he can’t hear due to background noise. We’ve spent thousands on hearing aids that he doesn’t wear because he says they make his hearing problems worse, not better. Perhaps Starkey Hearing Technologies can help him, too.

    • As a long time tinnitus sufferer I found this article encouraging and thank Anthony for posting it. As to rigor in climate science, I’m afraid the science bit is dead and the only rigor it is likely to get is rigor mortis.

      • How to stop my damaged cilia from triggering the false signals? Once the tinnitus is then stopped, regenerating new undamaged cilia will be attractive.

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