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Stem cell transplants explored at Stanford as a possible treatment for hearing loss

Stefan Heller's dream is to someday find a cure for deafness.

As a leader in stem cell-based research on the inner ear at the Stanford University School of Medicine, he's got a step-by-step plan for making this dream a reality.

It may take another decade or so, but if anyone can do it, he's the guy to place your bets on.

"Everyone asks, 'How long before we do this?'" said Heller, PhD, associate professor of otolaryngology, whose accent still bears the trace of his native Germany. "I tell them the devil is in the details."

But even at the national level, those in the research community remain hopeful that Heller's work will reap successes sooner rather than later. Heller will discuss his stem cell research during a panel discussion Feb. 17 in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The session is titled "Hearing health: The looming crisis and what can be done about it."

James Battey, MD, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, lauded Heller as "one of the leading auditory neuroscientists" and points to his stem cell regeneration research as a high priority for the institute.

Heller's vision is to develop a variety of possible cures for deafness. For the past year and a half, since coming to Stanford from Harvard, he's been focused on two paths: drug therapy -which could be as simple as an application of ear drops - and stem cell transplantation into the inner ear to remedy hearing loss.

Currently he's working on perfecting the steps toward eventual stem cell transplantation into humans, with the goal of first curing deafness in mice within the next five years. His lab is also busy studying the ability of birds to regenerate the tiny hair cells in the cochlea. It's these cells that convert the mechanical energy of sound into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain so that a ch
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Source:Stanford University Medical Center


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