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December 25, 2003

EU team sees hearing loss cure in mouse ears

From: Tulsa World (subscription), OK - Dec 25, 2003

Courtesy of Reuters

BRUSSELS - Scientists have found cells in the ears of mice that could lead to a way to reverse hearing loss in humans, the European Commission said recently.

Ten percent of people in the European Union suffer from deafness after losing hair cells in their inner ear as a result of injury or aging.

Hair cells convert vibrations in the air into electrical signals that the brain interprets as sounds, and once lost cannot be replaced by the body.

But French and Swedish scientists have found stem cells in the ears of adult mice that have the potential to grow into replacement hair cells, funders at the European Commission said.

"The findings of the 'Bionic Ear' project are very promising," EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said.

"However, more research is needed to prove that these newly differentiated hair cells could efficiently replace damaged elements of the human inner ear," added Busquin, the EU executive's top research official.

Scientists expect to find similar stem cells in the ears of human adults, and hope to be able to coax them into growing into fully-fledged hair cells, the Commission said.

It added it was also funding research into electronic ear implants that turn sounds into nerve signals.

Details of the research into mouse stem cells is set to be presented to the American Society for Cell Biology's annual conference in San Francisco this weekend.

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