In an effort that may someday lead to the treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders, which currently affect about 28 million Americans, Marine Biological Laboratory visiting investigators Jeffrey Corwin and Stefan Heller are working this summer to make large numbers of mouse stem cells "grow" into inner ear sensory hair cells-acoustic receptors that are a critical part of the auditory system.
The work is important because, in humans, inner ear sensory hair cells are a precious commodity. Humans are born with only about sixteen thousand of these sound detectors in each ear, which can be easily damaged by age, certain illnesses, exposure to loud sounds, and some medications. Once damaged, the cells do not easily grow back. And with the cell loss comes so-called irreversible hearing loss.
The two scientists are collaborating to develop new methods to expand and maintain adult stem cells isolated from the mouse inner ear to establish long-term stable cell lines. This is the first step toward the ultimate goal of creating implantable human hair cells that will grow happily; eventually repairing damaged hearing and restoring balance.
Corwin, a neuroscience professor from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and Heller, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School will be collaborating at the MBL through August as part of the Albert and Allen Grass Faculty Grant Program.
The Marine Biological Laboratory is an independent scientific institution, founded in 1888, dedicated to improving the human condition through basic research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. MBL hosts research programs in cell and developmental biology, ecosystems studies, molecular biology and evolution, neurobiology, behavior, global infectious diseases and sensory physiology. Its intensive graduate-level educational program is renowned throughout the life sciences. The MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the western hemisphere.