New Gene Therapy on the Horizon for Hearing LossAudiology by Accent
Many people with mild or moderate hearing loss rely on hearing aids to help them hear what others say. Other than some potential surgical procedures, hearing devices have traditionally been the type of help people have turned to when dealing with hearing loss. However, gene therapy might be a way to address hearing loss in the future. Researchers across the U.S. are investigating gene therapy as a possible way to help people recover their hearing abilities.
Gene therapy in the inner ear to address hearing loss caused by single-gene mutations is an emerging technology. Recent studies have demonstrated that animals with hearing loss who received gene therapy recovered auditory functions. This means that gene therapy as a treatment for hearing loss might be on the horizon for people.
However, the most common types of genetic hearing loss might not be amenable to gene therapy. Other, rarer forms of genetic hearing loss will likely be the first types that are treated with gene therapy.
How Does Gene Therapy Work?
Gene therapy works by repairing or restoring cells that have been damaged. Hearing aids and cochlear implants do not repair damaged cells. Gene therapy is still in its infancy, but genetic screening is mature. Combining traditional audiological measures with genetic screening might help to improve the diagnostic accuracy of hearing loss and better predict the patient’s prognosis.
Gene therapy might also be used to help people with environmentally-caused hearing loss. For those people, gene therapy could be used to repair and regenerate cells that have been lost or damaged. In the future, gene therapy might be an exciting approach to restoring many people’s hearing.
Current Research on Hearing Loss
Researchers in Michigan are using gene transfer methods to improve new hair cell efficiency. Hair cells in the inner ear are responsible for transmitting signals along the auditory nerve to the brain. The researchers are working with mice that have genetic inner ear hearing loss to help them understand the mutation so that they can design appropriate genetic interventions. Private sector companies are also conducting research into gene therapy for hearing loss.
The inner ear is well-suited for gene therapy since it can be directly delivered to the cells. The hair cells do not divide and present a lasting potential for the effectiveness of gene therapy. Because of the way the inner ear works, researchers also believe that it will help to prevent an immune response against gene therapy. Both private and public sector researchers are working to develop technologies enabling the precise application of gene therapy to specific cells.
What the Future Might Hold
Gene transfer technology for applications to the inner ear still needs to be improved before it will become a reality in clinical practice. Better cell-specificity, durational control, and the degree of gene expression all need to be achieved. Better diagnostic tools for hair cell loss will also be needed to appropriately implement gene transfer technology.
People should not expect to see gene therapy available as a treatment for hearing loss soon. It is important for a systematic and careful approach to be used so that the efficacy and safety of gene therapy for hearing loss can be studied and fully understood. Greater access to genetic testing will also be needed so that people can understand the root causes of hearing loss so that they can seek tailored therapies.
How Might Gene Therapy Affect Audiology?
Even when gene therapy becomes available, audiologists will continue to play an important role in evaluating auditory function both before and following gene therapy treatment to help to understand its effectiveness and durability. Gene therapies will have to be customized to each patient’s genetic diagnosis. Audiologists might provide valuable help with designing diagnostic tools to identify the absence of hair cells, the location of the loss, and the state that the surrounding cells are in.
Talk to Audiology by Accent
If you are suffering from hearing loss, you should speak to the professionals at Audiology by Accent in Gainesville, Florida. Call us today to schedule an appointment at (352) 271-5373.