It’s difficult for us to imagine life without sight or hearing and, for some, those are daily impairments they have to live with, but hope for a deafness cure has recently come to light. A team of scientists at a children’s hospital in Boston along with students from Ivy league college, Harvard, have taken a significant step forward to restoring auditory senses through gene therapy.
Five percent of people worldwide are currently impaired with hearing loss and no permanent solution has been discovered. It affects the lives of both the afflicted and those around them, even if advances have been made to better integrate them into society.
Some have adjusted well, but the struggle is never truly over. However, researchers have been focusing their efforts on finding a way to improve the life of those impaired.
Through a recent study, a team of scientists have made a breakthrough by repairing the flawed genes that is the cause of genetic deafness for 1 in 1,000 newborn babies. It essentially implies fixing the ‘bad’ DNA through gene therapy.
What posed great difficulty, and still does, is the fact that one in over 70 flawed genes can be at fault for hearing loss. Research in the domain of hearing impairment has also taken a bit of a hit after a series of unsafe experiments between 1990 and 2000, but a different approach has brought hope back for future treatments.
The study revolved around the missing or mutated TMC1 gene in mice, which, when duplicated, causes hearing loss in young children as early as the tender age of two-years old, while a single copy of the gene causes gradual deafness in developing children from the ages of 10 to 15.
TMC1 is the reason for 4-8% cases of deafness around the world, but many other types of genetic deafness could be repaired through the same means.
The normal, affected version of the TMC1 was injected into the inner ears of mice using the common cold virus as a safe distributing agent, a frequently used practice for those researching viral treatments.
The results showed a partial restoration of hearing in formerly deaf mice, easily tested through loud sounds and observing their reactions. It may seem simple, but it was greatly efficient when it was clearly noticed that the experimentally-treated mice jumped as high as their average kin when startled by noise as low as 80 decibels.
Further tests showed that their sensory “hair cells” were able to convert the sounds around them into electrical signals sent to the brain. Some of the mice could adapt, respond and work with sounds around them after receiving the repaired copies of their flawed genes.
A separate research, who has seen even better advances, is currently in the stage of human trials to repair damage-ensued or diseased-caused deafness. There are mild solutions, such as cochlear implants, but scientists claim that nothing could compare to the accuracy of our actual auditory sense.
The field has shown great promise for a permanent solution, but costs of research are still an issue. These steps forward, however, could bring both more awareness and more investors.
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