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OHSU Discover New Development in Hair Cells Critical to Hearing

New research from Oregon Health & Science University offers insight into the development of hair bundles deep within the inner ear that are critical to hearing.

The bundles inside the spiral cavity of the ear convert vibrational energy into electrical signals in the brain. They do not regenerate once they are lost, either from loud noises, disease or aging.

The study, published today in the journal Current Biology, shows that the bundles develop in a feedback loop in which form follows function and vice versa.

Researchers found in studying a mouse ear that stereocilia widen simultaneously during mechanotransduction, or the conversion of sound into electrical signals.

“If you get hair cell regeneration and hearing, you have to have functional hair bundles and transduction, so understanding how they normally develop is important,” said Peter Barr-Gillespie, a professor in the Oregon Hearing Research Center and senior scientist in the Vollum Institute.

Scientists may be able to use gene editing tools such as CRSPR to turn genes on.

“If we learn the key steps for building a hair bundle and that during hair cell regeneration, the regenerating cells aren’t expressing some key proteins to make the developmental progression happen, we could then have a couple of approaches to get over that,” Barr-Gillespie said. “We could deliver a gene that expresses that protein that turns on a developmental pathway. Another way is CRISPR technology could activate many at once.”

Barr-Gillespie is also the scientific director of the Hearing Restoration Project, a privately funded consortium of 15 scientists from around the world who are seeking to develop strategies for hair-cell regeneration to restore hearing loss.

Article originally appeared in Portland Business Journal