“Cell transplantation therapy and age related hearing loss”

Contact Name: Dr David Furness

Contact Email: d.n.furness@gmail.com

My main research interests lie in the field of auditory neuroscience. I am presently investigating the role of fibrocytes in the cochlea. These are cells that are associated with homeostatic mechanisms that regulate the composition of cochlear fluids. These cells appear to go wrong in certain forms of deafness, including age-related deafness (presbyacusis). My group has funding from Deafness Research UK to investigate whether a stem cell/replacement cell strategy might be employed to prevent or ameliorate age-related deafness by replacing defective fibrocytes. The main techniques we employ are electron microscope, post-embedding immunogold electron microscopy, confocal microscopy and cell culturing. We have received funding for our work from the Wellcome Trust, MRC, Deafness Research UK, Midlands Institute of Otology, Royal Society, Physiological Society, British Tinnitus Association and others. Another of my major research interests is cochlear hair cell structure, composition and function. I am focussing on the hair bundle and how the hairs (stereocilia – see picture) function to convert mechanical action from sound stimulation into electrical signals and nerve impulses in nerve fibres going to the brain.

As the causes of age-related hearing loss have become better understood, a number of possible targets for cell replacement or regeneration have been identified. The major effort has generally been expended in replacing the sensory hair cells of the organ of Corti to restore hearing. However, it may well be equally fruitful to target other cells such as the spiral ganglion neurones that transmit the neural signal to the higher auditory pathway, or the spiral ligament fibrocytes that contribute to the homeostatic mechanism that maintains the endocochlear potential and ultimate ensure the survival of the hair cells themselves. I will review these possible targets, focussing particularly on the fibrocytes and their contribution, as well as ways they may be replaced to prevent age-related hearing loss.

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