As we age, we tend to lose auditory hair cells inside the cochlea, leading to hearing loss and possibly to balance disorders (my bank account has a balance disorder, hiyoooo!). Most of us are born with around 30,000 hair cells per ear, and once they’re gone, they’re gone, but that’s going to change. Stefan Heller and his team at Stanford University have created mouse hair cells in a petri dish using pluripotent stem cells.
The cells also developed stereocilia, which are tiny clumps of hair-like projections found on hair cells. Stereocilia bend when subjected to vibrations, converting those vibrations into electrochemical signals that the brain interprets as sound. The Stanford researchers used a probe to stimulate the synthesized stereocilia, and found that they did indeed produce an electrochemical current. [Gizmag]
The presence of stereocilia which produce a current is a good indication that these may be able to send auditory signals to the brain (assuming the surrounding tissue isn’t too damaged to carry the signal). In the short term these cells can be used to test possible deafness-treating medications in a petri dish. In the long term the research should lead to the creation of human hair cells suitable for transplant. When that day comes, we’re all going to have to come up with a better excuse for why the trash wasn’t taken out.