Sensory stem cell biology and regeneration

Hearing loss is most commonly caused by damage to the sensory hair cells and/or the auditory neurons in the cochlea. One possible therapeutic path would be to use otic progenitors generated in vitro to functionally replace the damaged cells.

Sensory stem cell biology and regeneration hero image

Our group has made key advances developing stem cell technologies into a potentially viable therapy. We isolated a population of stem cells from the human fetal cochlea, and we have developed robust protocols to drive otic differentiation from human pluripotent stem cells. We also have established the proof of concept that hESC-derived otic progenitors can repair the damaged cochlea. We demonstrated that transplanted cells can graft into an animal model of auditory neuropathy, and elicit functional recovery as measured by auditory brainstem thresholds. We are now translating these advances into a feasible therapy for humans.

Human ESC-derived ear organoid

In an integrative regenerative medicine strategy, we are also exploring the combination of stem cells with cochlear implants, aiming to develop a true bionic implant. This device should conceptually combine stem cells with stimulatory electrodes. For this, we are developing animal models of cell transplantation and implantation. On a parallel strategy, we are also using stem cells to develop in vitro platforms that would facilitate drug discovery and analysis. Our interest includes the vestibular organ and strategies for its repair to treat debilitating conditions such as vertigo.

During the past years, we have had several collaborations with industry and academia, within the UK as well as worldwide. We recently founded Rinri Therapeutics, a company aiming to develop our discoveries into a treatment for hearing loss.

Primary investigators


  • Dr Stuart Johnson (University of Sheffield)
  • Professor Jaydip Ray (Royal Hallamshire Hospital, UK)
  • Professor Fiona Boisonnade (Charles Clifford Dental Hospital, UK)
  • Professor Marta Cohen (Sheffield Children's Hospital, UK)