Stem cells may help deaf people hear again, according to early stage research by British scientists. A team at the University of Sheffield said on Thursday they had discovered how to turn stem cells into ones that behave like sensory hair cells or auditory neurons, which could then be surgically inserted into the ear to restore lost hearing. Lead researcher Marcelo Rivolta said the approach, which is being tested on animals, held significant potential but was a long way from being offered to patients. "It will take several years before we are in a position to start doing human trials," he said in a telephone interview. The cells in the ear that detect sound are created only in the womb, which means there is no way to repair them once they have been damaged, resulting in permanent hearing loss. Using stem cells -- master cells that produce all the body's tissues and organs -- to generate these cell types in the laboratory could change that dramatically.It's about time stem cell research yielded some publicly big, palpable discoveries- perhaps eventually the ideological debate will be quashed and science can continue to crank out new and more effective cures for humanity's ailments, free of partisan political interference.