Following previous research that created new neurons to grow inside the cochlea using a protein growth factor, graduate student Jeremy Pinyon, neuroscientist Gary Housley and other colleagues at the University of New South Wales in Sydney created loops of DNA encoding a gene for growth factor called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). While inserting a cochlear implant into deaf guinea pigs, the researchers also injected the BDNF DNA genes into the animals’ cochleas.
The electrical pulses of the implant created pores in the cochlea for the DNA genes to enter the cells lining the cochlea. Over the next few days, the cells began emitting BDNF, which sparked the growth of long neurons toward the electrodes and, within two weeks, testing showed that the guinea pigs’ brains were more sensitive to sounds of various frequencies.
While testing has yet to be done on humans, the research team is confident that they, as Housley said, “closed the neural gap.”
The complete study was recently published in Science Translational Medicine.
Last updated: June 3, 2014