I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t a person living with hearing loss that didn’t wish there would be some type of treatment innovation that would come along to provide a “cure”. I mean there are pills I can take and “live” a fairly long life with different forms of cancer now and I could even get 3D printed replacement body parts – right?
I guess you could say that I’m cautiously optimistic about research I find out about and I hope and pray that one day a “cure” does come along. While I’m not personally willing to wait for such a day, I know that there are many, many people struggling to hear well with their hearing aids and not yet convinced to be evaluated for a cochlear implant.
I found an article recently about gene therapy research started at the University of Kansas and since expanded to other medical centers, and I want to share the information with you. As the article points out, this is the first time gene therapy is being tested on humans in an attempt to restore hearing so this is a fairly big deal.
There are somewhere around 20,000 tiny hair cells located in the snail shaped part of the inner ear called the cochlea. Each grouping of cells captures different sound frequencies. When sound moves the hairs, they send signals through the hearing nerve to the brain. These hair cells can be destroyed by exposure to loud noises, as well as some medications and chemotherapy. In humans and mammals, these hair cells do not regrow once damaged.
The clinical trial at KU is focused on a specific gene that causes hair cells to grow in the womb. Once the hair cells develop, the gene stops working because it’s work is done. The KU research involves getting the gene to start working again.
According to this article that was published December 2015, 8 patients have had this gene injected directly into the inner ear. 2 of those patients are mentioned in the article and they have both had improvements in their hearing. Both showed improvements in hearing at various frequencies, however, they both also said that their word recognition – the holy grail of all hearing improvement modalities – has not improved. I’ll focus another post on the subject of word recognition and the testing used for it, but just ask any person with hearing loss and they will tell you that they can probably hear some of the most annoying sounds around, but understanding what they person sitting next to them is saying is a huge challenge.
One other takeaway from this article is the mention that drug companies have taken notice on how big the hearing loss marketplace is. They are very involved in sponsoring this and other research. Very interesting…