01 July 2013

Genetic research into hearing loss progressing

Scientists are continually acquiring greater knowledge regarding the genetics that influence our hearing.

Many forms of hearing loss are genetic and caused by gene mutations. For example, it is estimated that 35-55% of age-related hearing losses are genetic.

Scientists around the world are constantly working to map out the genetic mutations associated with hearing loss and are frequently making new discoveries valuable for the treatment of hearing loss. Also, researchers are experimenting with gene therapies which may become essential treatments for hereditary and genetic hearing loss in the future, perhaps in combination with stem cell therapy.

Gene therapy may reverse congenital hearing loss

A gene therapy approach can reverse congenital hearing loss caused by a genetic defect in mice, according to a preclinical study from the University of California, San Francisco.  The findings potentially present a future treatment for people who are born with a hearing loss.

Discovery of gene brings treatment for hearing loss a step closer

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have found a single gene which they believe could hold the key to age-related hearing loss. When the FGF20 gene was taken out of mice, the animals appeared perfectly healthy, but could not hear at all.

Some people are at higher risk of hearing loss than others

Certain people are genetically better protected against hearing loss than others. Scientists from Germany and Canada found that an already-known protein also works to protect the ear from permanent noise damage. In the study, the scientists found that the protein, called AMPK, spurs a mechanism that helps to protect the sensory cells in the inner ear. These are the cells that are damaged during acoustic noise exposure.

Deaf gerbils regained their hearing after stem cell injections

Scientists from the University of Sheffield have partially restored the hearing of deaf gerbils with injections of nerve cells created from human embryonic stem cells. The procedure may be a first step towards treating deaf people by replacing damaged nerve cells in the inner ear.

Many causes of hearing loss

As mentioned earlier, age-related hearing loss is one of many reasons for hearing loss. Another common reason for hearing loss is exposure to noise. Noise may come from our work or from voluntary exposure to noise, such as noisy motors or loud music at rock concerts, night clubs, discos and from stereos - with or without the use of headphones.

Hearing loss may also occur as a result of disease, infection or drugs. It may be inherited or be a result of physical damage to the ears or serious head injury.

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