A team of medical researchers from Harvard might be one step closer to curing deafness caused by genetical factors. During several lab experiments, the scientists were able to cure at least a dozen mice of deafness using a benign virus and an altered gene. The experiment’s results are encouraging, and the scientists believe that human trials are just a couple of years away.
Konstantina Stankovic of the Harvard Medical School recently announced that her team of the researcher was successful in restoring hearing in 19 out of 25 mice suffering from genetic hearing loss. The lead researcher declared that this outstanding feat was made possible thanks to modern genetic engineering.
To be able to restore hearing in the afflicted mice, the identified a gene responsible for hearing loss, reverse-engineered it, and reintroduced it in the mice’s body using a benign virus as a carrier. Within a matter of days, the mice treated using this novel technique could hear even when the scientists whispered around them.
Stankovic declared that this was not the first attempt to treat genetically-induced deafness using a similar method, but the treatments have failed due to the fact that the scientists were unable to find a suitable delivery method.
Furthermore, this is the first study in a series of two, when scientists attempted to cure genetical diseases using gene therapy. In the second study, Dr. Gwenaelle Geleoc of the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center and her team of scientists attempted to treat a genetical disorder called Usher syndrome in mice.
As explained, Usher Syndrome is rare childhood genetic disease associated with loss of hearing, inability to maintain balance, and, in some cases, with blindness. Both experiments have suggested that the ability to cure genetic hearing loss using gene therapy is achievable. Furthermore, given the fact that Geleoc and Stankovic’s experiments proved that gene engineering is the best bet against all types of disease, genetical or otherwise, we should be seeing human trials in the next three to five years.
Margaret Kenna of the Boston Children’s Hospital declared that this new technique might be a more desirable alternative to a cochlear implant in children.
So, how does the treatment work? According to Stankovic, there are two sets of cell in our ear that are responsible for transmitting sound-like signals to the brain – the outer hair cells and the inner hair cells. Due to a genetic anomaly, the outer hair cells are unable to convey audio signals to the inner hair cells, which normally transmits the signals to the brain. The new gene therapy targets the outer hair cells, tunning them to the right frequency.
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