Research teams in the 3D Stem Cell Biology Research Group investigate the restoration of hearing and promotion of hair cell regeneration by studying how specific chemical compounds can trigger hair cell regeneration after damage to these sensory receptor cells. By developing human dish-grown, three-dimensional (3D) inner ear tissues called “human inner ear organoids,” which mimic the structure and function of native human inner ear tissues, investigators are working to generate cochlear tissues containing sound-sensing receptors and neurons that transmit hearing sensation to the brain. They’re also working to produce dish-grown cochlear tissues containing dying receptors hair cells.
These 3D organ replicas are used to test if a candidate compound with proven ability to regulate gene transcription can promote hair cell regeneration in dish-grown cochlear tissues. Human 3D cochlear organoids offer unprecedented opportunities to develop and test new hearing restoration therapies, since knowledge gained from a human model system is readily applicable to human hearing impairments. In thinking beyond the need for regenerative therapies, this model can be also used to identify drugs that protect sound-sensing receptor cells from loud noise and chemical insult. For each potential therapy, a human in vitro assay that allows for rapid screening of drug candidates could expedite discovery and pre-clinical testing.