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Scientists develop method to grow sensory hair cells in the ear

Scientists influenced embryonic stem cells to to develop into the hair cells which allow for hearing and help with balance in a lab dish, as well as in a chick embryo.

By Stephen Feller
Scientists develop method to grow sensory hair cells in the ear
Scientists have discovered a way to influence the protein in embryonic stem cells that influences them to grow into the hair cells in the inner ear that allows for hearing and balance. Photo: 9nong/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- A team of researchers has successfully devised a way to cause embryonic stem cells to become the inner-ear hair cells which are responsible for hearing and balance, according to a new study.

Scientists studied the regulatory proteins which influence the development of stem cells into hair cells. The "hairs" are mechanosensitive ion channels which turn vibrations into the electrical signals human brains process.

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The cells were grown in a dish, however when three transcription factors were introduced into stem cells in the ear of a developing chick embryo, hair cells began to form, including in areas they normally would not.

"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," the study's authors write. "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."

The study is published in Development.

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