Worldwide, it has been estimated that one billion people will experience hearing damage or loss at one point in their lives. Hearing devices have helped people hear after damage has occurred, but until now there has been no cure. This may be changing: with current scientific studies into the genetics of hearing loss and how genetics may also help to reverse it.
Hearing loss is often caused by a loss of tiny hair cells in the inner ear, which help us to detect sound and translate that sound to our brains for comprehension. These hair cells stop growing in utero, and once they are damaged or lost they do not grow back. Scientists have found, however, that there are some species of birds and fish that do grow these cells back into adulthood. If we can figure out a way to “turn on” the genes responsible for growing those cells, maybe we can reverse hearing loss as well.
A pharmaceutical company in Sweden has funded studies that were successful to partially restore hearing in mice by encouraging inner ear hair cell redevelopment. If these trials can be expanded to humans, these scientists hope to reverse progressive hearing damage and improve hearing abilities in those that have lost it.
Atoh1 is the name of the gene responsible for inner ear hair cell growth. Scientists are looking into ways to turn this gene back on to stimulate the hair cells to grow again. A cold virus is used as the conduit of this gene, which is then implanted into the ear drum with a syringe and a laser.
Preliminary trials have been conducted, and some participants have seen a slight improvement in hearing, though a reversal of hearing loss still remains elusive. Researchers are also working to discover if there are other genes that may also play a part in this hair cell growth, which they could possibly manipulate to encourage hearing restoration.
Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of issues beyond the typical causes of drug toxicity or loud noises. Research is also being done to find treatments for genetic hearing loss, which may be due to malfunctioning cells in the ear drum. Scientists are working on ways to repair damaged cells to reverse this type of hearing damage.
The future looks hopeful to eventually cure and reverse hearing loss. As for now, the best option is to avoid hearing loss altogether or to catch it in the early stages so it may be arrested before it becomes too severe. Come in today for a hearing test and take control of your hearing and your health!
Los Gatos Audiology is here to help you protect your hearing and your health. Call today and come in for your yearly hearing exam so you can stay ahead of the curve and protect your hearing, your brain and your health.
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