Regenerating cochlear hair cells: quo vadis stem cell
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- Beisel, K., Hansen, L., Soukup, G. et al. Cell Tissue Res (2008) 333: 373. doi:10.1007/s00441-008-0639-z
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Many elderly people worldwide lose the neurosensory part of their ear and turn deaf. Cochlear implants to restore some hearing after neurosensory hearing loss are, at present, the only therapy for these people. In contrast to this therapy, replacement of hair cells via stem cell therapies holds the promise for a cure. We review here current insights into embryonic, adult, and inducible stem cells that might provide cells for seeding the cochlea with the hope of new hair cell formation. We propose a two-step approach using a first set of transcription factors to enhance the generation of inducible pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and a second set of factors to initiate the differentiation of hair cells. Recent evidence regarding ear development and stem cell research strongly suggest that microRNAs will be an important new regulatory factor in both iPS cell formation and differentiation to reprogram cells into hair cells. In addition, we highlight currently insurmountable obstacles to the successful transformation of stem cells into hair cell precursors and their injection into the cochlear canal to replace lost hair cells.