Scientists believe they are on the brink of a cure for people born deaf after producing stem cells to correct a hereditary defect.
Experts have found a way of growing new cells for the cochlea, the spiral cavity of the inner ear.
These can be used to replace faulty ones in people deaf from birth due to a genetic error.
They hope a treatment could be available to patients within five to 10 years.
Professor Kazusaku Kamiya, a specialist in ear diseases who is leading the research, said: “I am very excited by what we have done. We hope this work will lead to a cure for a form of hereditary deafness.
“We have found a way to make cochlear stem cells. The next step is to find a way to safely inject them into the patient’s ear.”
The work, which is being carried out in a laboratory at Juntendo University in Tokyo, Japan, aims to correct a mutation in a gene called Gap Junction Beta 2, which accounts for deafness or hearing loss for one in a thousand children.