The recent festive period came with an added bonus for researches at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School. This arrived in the form of a successful step in the pursuit to cure hearing loss. It’s been an age-old concern and people have many a time been convinced that they’ve made ground-breaking steps towards successfully curing the disability. Although researchers are not touting this as an actual cure, it definitely makes headway and creates a foundation on which to gather further steam.
The discovery centres on the regeneration of tiny hairs in the ear. The function of the hairs is to detect sounds and by regenerating such hairs the ultimate goal is to reverse deafness. The hearing loss breakthrough was released in the journal, Neuron, where US researchers detailed the process.
The procedure was performed on mice where the injection of a drug resulted in substantial growth of new hairs. Although the hearing of the mice was by no means restored they were able to detect noises from various sources such as slamming doors and the sound of rush hour traffic. The experts working on the project were over the moon about the result but made no bones about the fact that treating humans in the same way will not be possible for quite some time.
History of Hearing
In order to hear at all, sound waves need to be converted into electrical signals that can then be coherently interpreted by the brain. In order to kick this process off we go deep inside the inner ear, where vibrations move the tiny hairs which then results in the creation of an electrical signal. The majority of issues relating to hearing loss are in some way due to the damage of these tiny hairs.
The study dealt with mice that had complete hearing loss and had practically no hairs left inside the ear. The drug that was used targeted cells that ordinarily support the hairs and the result was a change in the cells’ destiny through altering the genes that were active in the cells in order to change them into hair cells.
According to Dr Albert Edge this is the first time that hair cells have ever been regenerated in adult mammals before and is a very exciting prospect. He also mentioned how although there was only a slight respite from the hearing loss, it was improvement nonetheless and they were able to detect loud noises at a low frequency.