British researchers are reporting what might be a potential breakthrough in the treatment of deafness. They injected embryonic stem cells from humans into the inner ears of deaf gerbils, and the stem cells restored 45% of the gerbils' hearing range, on average, in 10 weeks, reports the BBC. Two caveats: Any similar treatment for humans is still years away, and the particular type of deafness treated in the study is an uncommon one, affecting maybe 10% of hearing-impaired people. Still, the results in Nature are seen as a small but significant first step.
"It would mean going from being so deaf that you wouldn't be able to hear a lorry or truck in the street to the point where you would be able to hear a conversation," says one of the scientists involved in the study.