Melbourne, September 22 : A leading researcher at the Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne says that she is working on a technique that can restore hearing to the totally deaf in 50 years.
Researcher Bryony Coleman has revealed that she is carrying out the world's first research into the potential of stem cells to regrow the nerves that connect the ear to the brain.
She says that the technique may help improve the quality of hearing in people with cochlear implants, and even restore hearing to those who are totally deaf, if her research turns out to be successful.
"Fifty years down the track this might be one of many techniques - we might not even need a cochlear implant," theage.com.au quoted her as saying.
When some of the tiny, vibrating hairs in the inner ear get damaged, each hair cell's destruction leads to the death of up to 10 nerves that carry sound information into the brain.
The cochlear implant can replace some of the work of the hair, but it cannot regrow the nerves.
Coleman believes that "precursor" cells that can grow into replacement nerve cells can offer a solution.
"The theory is that the bigger and healthier the nerves, the better the cochlear implant will work. We are using stem cells to make that bigger and healthier," she said.
She, however, admits that the procedure is more complicated than sticking a bunch of cells in your ear, for it would require growing the cells in the right place so that they connect the hair cell to the brain.
"We have transplanted stem cells into the (inner ear) and they survive, but we need to know if they work," she said.
Scientists have already achieved success in regrowing the delicate hair cells of the inner ear of mice using gene therapy.
Coleman says that her work may supplement that breakthrough.