At Stanford's school of medicine excitement is building around something that is invisible to the naked eye, but could make all the difference in the ear. Researchers say stem cells could be the key to finding a cure for hearing loss.
"Stem cells are widely available and you can grow them up to the millions," says Stanford professor Stefan Heller. "So, the original thought was to generate inner ear cells from stem cells."
Inner ear cells are almost impossible to test on because there are so few of them. Now, scientists are not only able to grow the cells by the millions, but they can also recreate the small hairs found on top of the cells that detect vibration and sound in the human ear.
Right now, one in three adults over the age of 65 has hearing loss, specifically caused by the destruction of hair cells in the ear. Now, with so many testable cells, researchers hope to test drugs on them in the coming years and find a cure for deafness.
"We can look for novel drugs that can lead to regeneration of the cells," Heller says.
Dr. Kazuo Oshima is part of the research team and has treated people for hearing loss.
"It's really tough situation for them and there is no cure," he says.
He is sure this discovery, which was published Cell Magazine, will give patients hope. At Ears Inc. Hearing center, it already is.
"For them to be able to synthetically do it, I think it's fantastic. I think it's a great leap in hearing," says patient Chris Toney.
It is a leap so many people cannot wait to take.