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Friday, November 17, 2017

Stem Cells Can Restore Hearing but May Pose Cancer Risk

A new study found that injecting stem cells into the inner ear can restore hearing, but the process could lead to cancer. (Stem Cell Reports 2017;9[5]:1516.) Researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick overexpressed the gene NEUROG1, which plays a role in spiral ganglion neuron and hair cell development, to turn inner ear stem cells into auditory neurons, which could reverse deafness. This, however, could can also make those cells divide too quickly, posing a cancer risk. To control this process, researchers used chromatin, DNA studded with histone proteins, to influence how NEUROG1 functions. Researchers discovered that chromatin may help reduce unwanted stem cell proliferation, and it can be achieved by adding drugs to experimental cultures in Petri dishes.

​Kelvin Kwan, PhD, a senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University, said this is a cautionary tale. "People say, 'we'll just put stem cells in and we're going to replace lost neurons,'" Kwan said. "We're saying that 'yes, we can make neurons,' but you have other side effects that are unanticipated, such as increased proliferation of stem cells. So this will guide us toward a better strategy for cell replacement therapies."