Pioneering research brings cure for hearing loss one step closer

Research funded by RNID and Deafness Research UK has made a major breakthrough towards using stem cells as a treatment for hearing loss in the future. The work will be presented on Monday 6 April 2009 at the UK National Stem Cell Network annual science conference in Oxford, UK.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Sheffield, has successfully isolated human stem cells and discovered how to turn these into either cells that behave like sensory hair cells or auditory neurons. The cells could be used to restore hearing.

Currently, there is no way to repair the cells that detect sound (hair cells) once they have been damaged and the resulting hearing loss is permanent. The results of this research also means that, for the first time, there is now a system based on human cells for testing new therapies in the laboratory.

Lead researcher and senior research fellow at the University of Sheffield, Dr Marcelo Rivolta, said: "The potential of stem cells is very exciting. We have now an experimental system to study genes and drugs in a human context. Moreover, these cells would help us to develop the technologies needed to deliver them into damaged tissues, such as the cochlea, in order to restore the different cell types. This should facilitate the development of a stem cell treatment for deafness."

Dr Ralph Holme, director of biomedical research at RNID, said: "Stem cell therapy for hearing loss is still some years away but this research is incredibly promising and opens up exciting possibilities by bringing us closer to restoring hearing in the future."

Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK, said: "This study highlights the importance of stem cell research. In addition to the future potential for restoring hearing with stem cell therapy, the recent research success means that we may now have better ways to test the efficacy and toxicity of new drugs on auditory cells."

The research has been published in the May edition of Stem Cells.

Notes for Editors: RNID media contact: Annie Goss, tel. 020 7296 8137

Deafness Research UK media contact: Jon Gardner, tel. 0114 275 6996 or 07930 697773

UKNSCN Media contact: Nancy Mendoza, Tel: 01793 413355, Mobile: 07785 710536 or Matt Goode, Tel: 01793 413299, Mobile: 07766 423 372
Direct email: matt.goode@bbsrc.ac.uk, Press Office email: ukpo@uknscn.org

For a copy of the embargoed research contact Annie Goss (details above).

Sheffield University is now working on the next stage of the research to check if cells can restore hearing.

The University of Sheffield is one of the UK's leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. For further information, please visit www.sheffield.ac.uk

RNID is the largest charity working to change the world for the UK's nine million people who are deaf and hard of hearing people. We do this with the help of our members by campaigning and lobbying, raising awareness of deafness and hearing loss, providing services and through social, medical and technical research.

Deafness Research UK is the country's only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people. The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus

The UK National Stem Cell Network (UKNSCN) Annual Science Conference is the UK's premier stem cell research conference and the only meeting to bring together the full spectrum of UK stem cell scientists – meaning the conference covers every hot topic in current stem cell research. Topics include induced pluripotency, cancer stem cells, regenerative medicine, adult stem cells, tissue engineering and social/ethical issues. For further information please visit http://www.uknscn.org/meetings/meetings09.html

The UK National Stem Cell Network (UKNSCN) acts as a network of the existing regional stem cell networks in the UK, to bring coordination and coherence to a range of national and regional activities in the field of stem cell research.

The UKNSCN secretariat receives financial support from four of the UK Research Councils:

* Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
* Medical Research Council (MRC)
* Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
* Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The Network represents the UK stem cell research community and is run through an independent Steering Committee. Initially, the secretariat is operated by BBSRC on behalf of all the Government sponsors of stem cell research, including the Research Councils, the Department of Health and the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.

For further information please contact: Catherine Milburn, Media Relations Officer on 0114 2225339 or email C.L.Milburn@sheffield.ac.uk