A new experiment on mice raises hopes that deafness could be reversed in humans as soon as clinical trials would start five years from now.
Gene therapy is gaining ground in combating hereditary deafness as well. Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne published the results of their experiment on mice to reveal that gene therapy was successful in repairing the faulty DNA and allowing hereditary deaf mice to hear.
A separate, unrelated study is being conducted by Novartis to reverse deafness for people who became deaf due to diseases or damage inflicted on the ear.
The Boston-Lausanne experiment proved that newborn mice with hereditary deafness heard noises once more after they received genes that were healthy to replace or repair the faulty genes they had.
The mice genes that lead to deafness are similar to human genes. Thus, the researchers are hopeful gene therapy could be used to aid people suffering from hereditary deafness. Tobias Moser from Gottingen’s University Medical Center, uninvolved in the experiment stated with regards to gene therapy:
“We are somewhat late in the auditory field, but I think we are getting there now. It’s an exciting time for gene therapy in hearing.”
For the elderly, hearing loss is typically a result of old age or too much noise that inflicts damage. For babies, it is a hereditary disease that mirrors more than 70 individual faulty genes. These are the specific patients who will benefit from the mice experiment, hopes the joint team of researchers.
The technique was applied on newborn mice, hereditary deaf, targeting the TMC1 gene, typically responsible for hereditary deafness in 4 to 8 percent of deafness cases. To repair the gene, the researchers injected viruses comprising healthy genes into the engineered AAV1 virus.
This was then transplanted in the mice and successfully restored the functions of the cells in the inner ear, as well as the hearing, albeit partially.
The mice were tested for hearing as they got surprised and reacted to noises around them.
Currently there exist no approved treatment to reverse deafness. Deafness affects approximately 360 million people worldwide, according to WHO statistics.
And while hearing aids are able to amplify sounds and cochlear implants send electrical signals to the brain to be decoded as sounds, there are no treatments for deafness as such.
Particularly for babies who are born with hereditary deafness, the experiment brings invaluable hope.
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