The goal of the House Research Institute’s new Center for Sensory Regeneration is to investigate stem cell and regeneration avenues to initiate exciting and novel treatment models for hearing loss and balance disorders.
Millions of people, both children and adults, have hearing deficits that are caused by the loss of the sensory hair cells in the inner ear. These delicate hair cells are vulnerable to the impact of genetics, accident, loud sounds and diseases. In children, hearing deficits occur in nearly 1 in 1000 births. Meanwhile, more than half of all adults in the United States will have significant hearing loss by the time they reach retirement age. In addition, balance disorders caused by loss of hair cells are a major cause of morbidity and mortality among the elderly. Hearing loss is also the major disability among service men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At present, the only treatments available for this sensorineural hearing loss are auditory prostheses such as hearing aids and cochlear implants. But even with the most advanced technology, devices cannot fully restore an individual’s hearing. Our best hope to address this problem is at the cellular and molecular level. There we can pursue the protection of hair cells from damage as well as the restoration of lost hair cells and the nerves that connect them to the brain.
The Center for Sensory Regeneration:
The field of regenerative medicine currently is exploding with new discoveries in the areas of developmental biology and stem cells, epigenetics, genome reprogramming, systems biology and engineering, and bioinformatics. We believe that applying interdisciplinary approaches involving these fields is crucial to the goal of restoring the lost senses of hearing and balance. In developing the Center for Sensory Regeneration we hope to capitalize on this interdisciplinary approach to open the door to exciting research opportunities, ultimately enabling the manipulation of existing cell populations to take on new identities and replace the lost cells of our auditory system.
Just a few years ago these ideas were only wishful thinking on the part of hopeful scientists and patients. Today the underlying biological processes are being unraveled rapidly. There is now a strong expectation that these new discoveries will be harnessed into treatments, and ultimately will be applied to many of the most intractable problems of modern medicine, including those facing sensory biology.
Six programmatic areas are targeted for expansion:
- Stem Cell Biology
- Systems Biology
- Developmental Biology
- Regeneration Neuroscience
By creating a synergistic environment for researchers in each area to work together to advance the science, the Center for Sensory Regeneration seeks to accelerate the timeframe for discovery and application.