Inner ear hair cells are required to detect motion both from sounds and linear acceleration. Loss of these cells cause hearing loss and balance disorders, therefore, our laboratory has been studying progenitor cells that have the potential to regenerate lost hair cells, either at baseline or after manipulation, with the eventual goal of restoring hearing and balance functions.
In the last 6 months, we have continued our work on characterize one such hair cell progenitor cell population locating in the utricle, one of the 5 vestibular organs in the inner ear. Use transgenic mice, we have successfully pinpointed their identity during regeneration both in culture and in the whole animal. Using established normative measurement of vestibular function immediately after damage and during hair cell regeneration long after injury, we are correlating physiological measurements to histologic findings. Ongoing work involves pharmacologic and transgenic manipulation of these hair cell progenitors with the goal of coercing them to regenerate more, and then determine of histologic changes in turn translate to improved function. In parallel, we have established a culture system to study whether a similar progenitor cell population exists in human utricular tissues, and an important aspect of this work will be translating successful approaches in the mouse system immediately to human tissues.