Purdue University biologists have learned how to control the development of stem cells in the inner ears of embryonic chickens, a discovery which could potentially improve the ability to treat human diseases that cause deafness and vertigo.
Figure 1 shows part of the cochlea in an embryonic chickens inner ear, where patches of vestibular hairs, used to detect balance, grew in place of those that detect sound waves. The arrow indicates one such patch. Figure 2 is a close-up that shows both types of inner-ear hairs, which grow in tufts in different locations. The inset shows the type that detects bodily motion, with the hairs themselves stained red and the telltale cilia that extend from motion-detecting tufts stained green.
By introducing new genes into the cell nuclei, researchers instructed the embryonic cells to develop into different adult cells than they would have ordinarily. Instead of forming the tiny hairs that the inner ear uses to detect sound waves, the stem cells matured into tissue with different kind of hairs – the sort used to keep balance. This ability to guide the choice of cell types could expand researchers knowledge of the inner ear and its disorders.
"Weve essentially switched the fate of these cells," said Donna Fekete (pronounced FEH-ka-tee), associate professor of biology in Purdues School of Science. "We now know at least one gene that determines what these embryonic ear cells will eventually become. As a result, we can control the outcome ourselves using gene transduction. Because so many people suffer from deafness later in life, we hope this research will yield treatments for them down the line."
Chad Boutin | Purdue News
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