Stem cell research to create specific tissues is one of the hottest areas of health tech development. Impressive work is ongoing on many fronts. We’ve covered work by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science (ACES) and orthopedic surgeons at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne with 3D body part printing with stem cells. We also wrote about research at the University of Nottingham and Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering to design synthetic biologic material to stimulate stem cells to repair and regenerate dental tissue.

Now researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital have figured out how to grow inner ear tissue from human stem cells. Based on their earlier work, the scientists successfully used stem cell differentiation in a new way. Most stem cell work has the cells growing in a flat layer on the surface of a culture dish. Instead, the teams incubated cells in a three-dimensional culture. In this environment, the cells had more complex interactions in a manner closer to what happens in a human body. The scientists were able to guide the cells through specific processes by signaling specific molecules. The result was what they are calling inner ear “organoids,” three-dimensional structures with sensory cells and supporting cells like those found in the inner ear.

The group published their work in Nature and hope to lead to therapeutic solutions for people with balance and hearing disorders. They also hope to develop new drugs that can help regenerate inner ear hair cells.