Encapsulated cell device approach for combined electrical stimulation and neurotrophic treatment of the deaf cochlea
Profound hearing impairment can be overcome by electrical stimulation (ES) of spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) via a cochlear implant (CI). Thus, SGN survival is critical for CI efficacy. Application of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has been shown to reduce SGN degeneration following deafness. We tested a novel method for local, continuous GDNF-delivery in combination with ES via a CI. The encapsulated cell (EC) device contained a human ARPE-19 cell-line, genetically engineered for secretion of GDNF. In vitro, GDNF delivery was stable during ES delivered via a CI. In the chronic in vivo part, cats were systemically deafened and unilaterally implanted into the scala tympani with a CI and an EC device, which they wore for six months. The implantation of control devices (same cell-line not producing GDNF) had no negative effect on SGN survival. GDNF application without ES led to an unexpected reduction in SGN survival, however, the combination of GDNF with initial, short-term ES resulted in a significant protection of SGNs. A tight fibrous tissue formation in the scala tympani of the GDNF-only group is thought to be responsible for the increased SGN degeneration, due to mechanisms related to an aggravated foreign body response. Furthermore, the fibrotic encapsulation of the EC device led to cell death or cessation of GDNF release within the EC device during the six months in vivo. In both in vitro and in vivo, fibrosis was reduced by CI stimulation, enabling the neuroprotective effect of the combined treatment. Thus, fibrous tissue growth limits treatment possibilities with an EC device. For a stable and successful long-term neurotrophic treatment of the SGN via EC devices in human CI users, it would be necessary to make changes in the treatment approach (provision of anti-inflammatories), the EC device surface (reduced cell adhesion) and the ES (initiation prior to fibrosis formation).