Developments to Watch
RESTORED HEARING--FROM WRINKLE CREAM?
Too many rock concerts or other loud noises, disease, or simple aging have caused hearing loss for more than 15 million Americans. In most cases, the problem can be traced to damage to so-called hair cells in the inner ear. Scientists have considered the loss to be permanent, because the ear seemed to lack the ability to repair the damage.
Now, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the University of Liege in Belgium have regenerated damaged hair cells. In experiments reported in the Apr. 30 issue of the journal Science, the scientists extracted parts of rats' inner ears, grew the tissue in the lab, and killed the hair cells with drugs. When they dosed these cultures with a vitamin A derivative known as retinoic acid--the active ingredient in the wrinkle cream Retin-A--immature cells in the ear tissue developed into normal auditory hair cells. The reseachers still don't know how retinoic acid helps regenerate the cells and caution that curing hearing loss in humans is years away. But "we're on a very promising track," says Einstein's Thomas R. Van De Water, leader of the team.EDITED BY WILLIAM D. MARBACH