Typical language development requires typical hearing. With sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), the damaged hair cells of the organ of Corti within the cochlea interfere with typical hearing and, as a result, cause impaired language development. Untreated SNHL causes significant neurocognitive differences in affected children. SNHL is a permanent sensory disorder affecting more than 270 million people worldwide. Congenital SNHL is found in 4 of 1000 newborns. Approximately half of congenital SNHL is hereditary and is the result of genetic mutations causing improper development of cochlear hair cells. Non-genetic congenital SNHL is thought to be the result of an injury to the cochlea typically from premature birth, infection, or exposure to ototoxic medications or noise. In mammals, the cochlea is postmitotic at birth, and no spontaneous repair occurs thereafter. Existing treatments for SNHL (hearing aids and cochlear implants) function by augmenting the damaged organ of Corti. No reparative treatments currently exist. In preclinical and clinical studies, progenitor cell therapy (cord blood and mesenchymal stem cells) has shown promise in reversing the underlying pathology of SNHL, the loss of cochlear sensory hair cells. Progenitor cell therapy may also allow functional reorganization of the auditory pathways including primary auditory cortex (Heschl’s gyrus). We will present a summary of the effect of hearing loss on auditory development, existing preclinical and clinical data on progenitor cell therapy, and its potential role in the (re)habilitation of non-genetic SNHL.
Part of the book: Advances in Rehabilitation of Hearing Loss