Protecting auditory nerve cells using gene therapy and cell implants

Background

The purpose of this work was to develop a technique to deliver nerve survival factors, known as neurotrophins, to the deaf cochlea (inner ear) that will be safe to use in bionic ear recipients. This was done by using gene therapy and cell implantation.

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Alginate capsules containing BDNF-Schwann cells

Our research

We genetically modified cells so that they secreted neurotrophins, and essentially acted like “neurotrophin factories”. We then made small capsules which contained our cells, and implanted these capsules into the cochlea with a cochlear implant to provide survival signals to the auditory neurons.

The use of genetically modified cells enabled us to manipulate variables such as the cell type used and the neurotrophin expressed, and also maximised the neurotrophin secretion by the cells. We can thus tailor the cell implants to suit the needs of us, and others.

We found that these techniques helped to keep the auditory neurons and nerves alive, and we hope that methods such as these may improve the quality of the sounds that bionic ear recipients can hear.

Funding

Garnett Passe and Rodney Williams Memorial Fund
National Health and Medical Research Council

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