Hearing loss affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide by dampening or cutting off their auditory connection to the world. Current treatments for sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) with cochlear implants are not perfect, leaving regenerative medicine as the logical avenue to a perfect cure. Multiple routes to regeneration of damaged hair cells have been proposed and are actively pursued. Each route not only requires a keen understanding of the molecular basis of ear development but also faces the practical limitations of stem cell regulation in the delicate inner ear where topology of cell distribution is essential. Improvements in our molecular understanding of the minimal essential genes necessary for hair cell formation and recent advances in stem cell manipulation, such as seen with inducible pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and epidermal neural crest stem cells (EPI-NCSCs), have opened new possibilities to advance research in translational stem cell therapies for individuals with hearing loss. Despite this, more detailed network maps of gene expression are needed, including an appreciation for the roles of microRNAs (miRs), key regulators of transcriptional gene networks. To harness the true potential of stem cells for hair cell regeneration, basic science and clinical medicine must work together to expedite the transition from bench to bedside by elucidating the full mechanisms of inner ear hair cell development, including a focus on the role of miRs, and adapting this knowledge safely and efficiently to stem cell technologies.
- Hair cells
- Stem cells