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New Research Around Gene Therapy to Restore Hearing Loss

Monday, January 4, 2016 10:10:11 PM Australia/Melbourne

Hearlink is extremely passionate about innovations in audiology, including prospective hearing restoration studies and breakthroughs. Our mission is driven in part, by familiarity with learning the industry, the trials in process and what they may mean for the services that our team can offer to our patients.


This study in particular interested us. Our hearing relies on many different factors in different parts of the ear. One of these is the cochlea hair cell. Our ears need hair cells on both the inner ear and the outer ear to create electromobile responses. The electromobile responses are needed to collect information from incoming sound and allow us to hear. Hair cell functioning deteriorates over time, especially for those older than 60.


New Research Around Gene Therapy to Restore Hearing LossNew research completed by audiologists at the University of Kansas in the USA shows that hair cells in the inner ear may serve as a method to restore hearing loss.


There are many clinical trials in flight using drug and gene therapies to both prevent hearing loss and restore it. What is gene therapy? The base definition is the transplantation of normal genes into cells in place of missing or defective ones to correct genetic disorders. More specifically, gene therapy as it relates to hearing loss is a focus on one of the three genes that cause hearing loss.


The Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis is sponsoring a trial, which tests the injection of a treatment by viral sector. This delivers the gene atonal bHLH transcription factor 1. This is also known as Atoh1. Atoh1 causes hair cells to grow in mammals right before birth in the very early stages of development. The gene isn’t expressed in humans once these cells have fully developed.


This trial is being lead by Dr. Hinrich Staecker at Kansas University.  “The idea is to kick-start the process that turns a supporting cell into a hair cell and then stop,” Staecker is quoted as saying.  So how is this accomplished? Basically it’s administered with an incision to open the eardrum, and then a laser into a bone right against the inner ear drills a very small hole. With this hole, it becomes possible for a very small amount of the product to be directly administered into the ear itself.


This treatment is still very much in clinical trials. Due to its complexity and lack of research out there around it, only eight patients have been treated using gene therapy. There are many questions and unshared results. The biggest question currently is the relationship between the quantity of hair cells and decibels of hearing. Scientists are still working to determine this within animals, before they’re able to determine this in humans. Gene therapy has shown positive results, which keep the process moving. Columbia University Medical Center conducted a study using mice, which resulted in the regeneration of a very significant amount of hair cells. Because mice share similar genetic makeup with humans, this may boost technology to continue to test this in humans.


While much research lies ahead, it’s still a very innovative therapy that could make an impressive difference in the future for those with hearing loss.

Posted in Industry News By

Hearlink Admin