New Tool to Create Hearing Cells Lost in Aging

Hearing loss due to aging, noise and certain cancer therapy drugs and antibiotics has been irreversible because scientists have not been able to reprogram existing cells to develop into the outer and inner ear sensory cells — essential for hearing — once they die.

But Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered a single master gene that programs ear hair cells into either outer or inner ones, overcoming a major hurdle that had prevented the development of these cells to restore hearing, according to new research published in Nature.

“Our finding gives us the first clear cell switch to make one type versus the other,” said lead study author. “It will provide a previously unavailable tool to make an inner or outer hair cell. We have overcome a major hurdle.”

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