IN the future, implants might be able to regenerate and repair damaged parts of the body, with the recent announcement of an implant delivers gene therapy.
The study which was co-authored by researchers from the University of NSW, was published in Science Translational Medicine.
The scientists were seeking to create implants that are able to improve their performance beyond that of the environment they are transplanted into -- currently implants' capabilities are limited by the available neural interface. Damaged nerve endings, for example, reduce the efficacy of the implants.
The researchers deafened guinea pigs by administering medicine which poisoned their ears, causing the nerves in the ear to atrophy.
They then introduced recombinant DNA into the cochlea of the guinea pigs, before putting a custom cochlear implant in place. This implant focused electrical fields in a technique called close-field electroporation on the cells lining the cochlear.
This electroporation caused the DNA to enter the cells, which then produced proteins that stimulated the regeneration of the auditory nerves.
The new nerve growth caused by the treatment were able to interface with the cochlear implant, and improved the guinea pigs' ability to hear a greater dynamic range of sounds.
The implant is still premature for human trials, however, and improvements need to be made to ensure long-term effectiveness. However, the research has implications for other applications, including possibilities for regrowing damaged eye structures, or parts of the brain damaged by Parkinson's disease.