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Research Throws Light On Regeneration of Hearing Cells

A new research study has now yielded valuable clues about regeneration of hearing cells present in the ear, which convert sound vibrations into nerve impulses, to be processed by the brain. //

Researchers at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have developed a mouse model that would allow further research regarding deactivation of a retinoblastoma protein (can be achieved through knock out of retinoblastoma gene) that is thought to play a major role in the growth and division of hair cells. Suppression of this protein has already been known to result in variable effects in specific parts of the inner ear. The results of this study that holds a promise in the research and treatment of hearing loss would be presented in the upcoming issue of Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

‘In these first studies of the role of the Rb protein in the ears of postnatal mice, we have confirmed that – under the right conditions – mature hair cells can go through the cell cycle and produce new, functioning hair cells. But we've also confirmed that you need to block Rb reversibly and at an early stage of development, otherwise the hair cells will die,’ says Zheng-Yi Chen, DPhil, of the MGH Neurology Service, the study's senior author. In 2005 Chen was named to the Scientific American 50, the magazine's annual list of outstanding leaders, for this continuing research project.

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 senses sound – where they convert sonic vibrations to electrical signals that are carried to the brain. The cells are very sensitive to damage from excessive noise, infections and toxins. Once damaged, hair cells do not naturally regenerate in mammals, and their death accounts for most types of acquired hearing loss.

All cells grow and divide through a process called the cell cycle, and ma
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