Curing total hearing loss with stem cells grown in the laboratory has moved a step closer thanks to work by a team at Sheffield University.
Early versions of the cells have mimicked the electrical and physical features of sensory cells found in the inner ear, which use tiny hairs to turn sound waves into nerve impulses.
The research, reported in the journal Stem Cells, also produced cells with the properties of auditory neurons, nerve cells that transmit "hearing messages" to the brain.
Although practical treatments for deafness are believed to be at least 10 years away, team leader Dr Marcelo Rivolta says that the research may also provide useful tools for testing new drugs and studying the causes of hearing loss.
The research, funded by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) and the charity Deafness Research UK, will now move on to the next stage, conducting research on animals.