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What's that sound I smell? New treatment hints at hope for hearing loss

Scientists have sniffed out a novel idea to stop hearing loss in its tracks: A new procedure essentially provides a way for people to hear with their noses. (Can you smell me now?)

Australian scientists say that taking stem cells from the nose and transplanting them to the ear may help preserve hearing for those whose auditory problems begin in infancy or childhood, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal Stem Cells. The research focused on early-onset sensorineural hearing loss, which is caused by a loss of sensory cells or neurons in the cochlea. (That's the part of the inner ear that holds the actual sensory organ of hearing.)

It was a study in mice, but the researchers believe the findings may apply to human ears, too. A team of scientists, led by Dr. Sharon Oleskevich of the University of New South Wales, injected mucosa-derived stem cells (ick) into the cochlea of mice who were showing signs that their hearing was deteriorating. (Mice were used in the study because the way early hearing loss works in the little critters is similar to the way it works in humans.)

“One of the challenges in tackling this condition is that the regenerative ability of the human cochlea is severely limited," Oleskevich said in a statement. “It has been proposed that the transplantation of cells from other parts of the body could treat, prevent or even reverse hearing loss. The transplanted cells have the potential to repair tissue by replacing damaged cells and enhancing the survival of existing cells, preventing the condition from developing further.”

A month later, researchers tested each mouse's hearing threshold, using an auditory brainstem response test, which measures the lowest sound level to which the brain responds -- and the mice with the transplanted nasal stem cells did better when compared to mice without.

This is the craziest story I've smelled all day. What about you? What do you think of the new research?

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