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Our research: restoring hearing

We fund research to find ways to restore hearing and to improve medical devices to help people hear better.

Our research goals

Most hearing loss is caused by damage to part of your inner ear, called the cochlea. In the cochlea, sensory hair cells and auditory nerve cells detect sound and carry signals from the ear to the brain – which allows you to hear.

When these cells are damaged, you can’t regrow them, which causes hearing loss. This can happen as you grow older, or if you are exposed to very loud noise, for example. There are currently no treatments that can help regrow these cells once they’re lost. But our research can change that.

We fund research to:

  • identify ways to turn stem cells – which can turn into many different cell types – into these lost hearing cells
  • find out how to change the action of certain genes in the cochlea to create new cells or change how existing cells work – known as gene therapy
  • develop drugs that drive the production of new cells in the cochlea
  • improve medical devices people use now, such as cochlear implants and hearing aids

Stay up to date with research progress

What we’re funding now

Can synaptic damage and hearing loss be reversed?

Dr Karen Steel
King’s College London

Read more about Dr Karen Steel’s project

Investigating ways to re-programme supporting cells in the adult inner ear to re-grow lost hair cells

Professor Angelika Doetzlhofer
John Hopkins University

Read more about Professor Angelika Doetzlhofer’s project

Improving speech understanding in noisy places for people fitted with bone-anchored hearing aids

Professor John Culling
Cardiff University

Read more about Professor John Culling’s project

Reducing damage to the inner ear during cochlear implant surgery

Filip Hrnčiřík
University of Cambridge

Read more about Filip Hrnčiřík’s project

Improving methods to deliver drugs to the inner ear

Xin-Yu Zhou
University College London

Read more about Xin-Yu Zhou’s research project

Understanding more about how cochlear hair cells develop in the inner ear to more successfully grow them in the lab

Dr Magdalena Zak
University College London

Read more about Dr Magdalena Zak’s research project

Dr Jing-Yi Jeng
University of Sheffield

Read more about Dr Jing-Yi Jeng’s research project

Our progress

In 2012, our stem cell research led to a major breakthrough in the search to find a way to restore natural hearing. Thanks to your help and support, we were able to fund research where human stem cells restored hearing in gerbils.

The study was led by Professor Marcelo Rivolta at the University of Sheffield. Auditory nerve cells that were damaged in gerbils were regrown using stem cells, which can turn into many different types of cell.

Auditory nerve cells carry signals from the ear to the brain, which allows you to hear. When the stem cells were placed into the gerbils’ inner ear, they replaced the damaged cells and restored the gerbils’ hearing.

This encouraging research is a major step forward and paves the way to developing treatments in this field. Professor Rivolta is now working to develop these findings into a stem cell treatment for hearing loss. The University of Sheffield has set up a company, Rinri Therapeutics, to develop these treatments and take them towards testing in the clinic.

Read more about this breakthrough.

Find out more about our research achievements.

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