Dr. John Brigande of the Oregon Hearing Research Center in Portland and colleagues succeeded in regrowing hair cells in the inner ear through gene therapy. Their technique may one day cure deafness from aging, disease and listening to overly loud music:
Named for the hair-like projections on their surfaces, hair cells form a ribbon of vibration sensors along the length of the cochlea, the organ of the inner ear that detects sound.
Receiving vibrations through the eardrum and bones of the middle ear, hair cells convert them to electrical signals carried to the brain.
People, like all mammals, are not able to regenerate hair cells when they are damaged or lost. Dr Brigande and colleagues show in Nature that by implanting a gene that regulates hair cell growth, Atoh1, into the mouse inner ear while the mouse is still in the womb, new hair cells are made.
Many Deaf people born without hearing, however, may not want their deafness cured:
He said that some deaf people will reject the offer of gene therapy. "If a person is born without hearing, they are "Deaf" and that is a unique culture into itself. Many Deaf individuals highly value their deafness and do not wish to be hearing.