The promise of cell therapy: scaling up a new treatment paradigm for hearing loss

Expectations are growing worldwide for discoveries that will harness the potential of cell therapy, which has already brought breakthroughs in therapeutic areas where there is an unmet need, from oncology to ophthalmology and rare disease. In this article, Dr Terri Gaskell, Chief Technology Officer at Rinri Therapeutics, explores some of the pre-clinical challenges and questions associated with using a novel stem cell technology as a potential therapeutic strategy for hearing loss.

Hearing loss – addressing an unmet need

Hearing loss is the most common global sensory disability, affecting more than 430 million individuals worldwide,1 with these numbers expected to rise with increasing and ageing populations.

Mammals cannot repair or regenerate auditory sensory cells, leading to an irreversible loss of hearing should they be damaged. With no approved pharmaceutical treatments available, patient options are limited to hearing aids or cochlear implant devices that work with an individual’s remaining sense of hearing to amplify sounds – but crucially, this does not restore natural hearing. Cochlear implants are simply not effective for individuals diagnosed with auditory neuropathy, caused by a disruption of the nerve impulses travelling from the inner ear to the brain. A lack of treatment options means these patients have the poorest health outcomes and quality of life, impacted by their poor speech-perception abilities.