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Deafness has always been considered a permanent condition. However, recent studies indicate that this may not be the case in the future. Through stem cells, researchers have successfully restored hearing in deaf gerbils.
Mice, though commonly used for testing, were replaced by gerbils in this experiment because of their likeness to human hearing capabilities. Treatment required harvesting of nerve cells taken from human embryonic stem cells. The nerve cells collected were engineered to mimic the cells within neurons located in the inner ear. These cells were than delicately placed into the location of those neurons … and the waiting began.
Within just 10 weeks, there was noticeable improvement in the gerbils’ hearing. The average range of hearing brought back was around 46%, but some gerbils even experienced hearing restoration in the 90% range.
While it will be some time before this procedure can be used on humans, the results proved promising for the future. The results prove that even though hearing restoration may not reach 100%, a person could go from hearing nothing to being able to conduct a conversation in a quiet room with no challenges - and that is just with the 46% restoration rate.
Much more research will have to be done, and most likely this will take some time. Stem cell research is a controversial topic, and the current debates surrounding stem cell research might also lengthen the time it takes to create a safe human procedure. However, it is a positive step in the right direction. If researchers can successfully restore hearing in deaf gerbils with the use of stem cells, someday humans may be able to receive the same benefits.