For me, this is a profound moment. It will be even more profound if many people can benefit from it.
Some of you may know that I suffer about an 85% hearing loss, and even with powerful hearing aids I still have very poor hearing which has gotten almost non-functional over the years. It makes me a social hermit since I don’t function well in public. It is part of the reason I became a broadcaster, because I had such a terrible time in college lectures and with language requirements in the school of science. In broadcasting, I only had to talk to the camera or to the microphone. It was a job that was not only a dream come true, it brought me out of my shell that many hearing impaired people live in due to the social isolation it brings.
I started losing my hearing as a child due to being treated with the antibiotic Tetracycline, which is known to be ototoxic. By the time I was 10, I needed hearing aids, but fortunately, I had formed my primary speech skills. Many other people who lose hearing as children aren’t so lucky as I and have speech problems as a result.
I knew this day would come, I predicted that gene therapy to treat cochlear nerve deafness would be coming over 10 years ago. I can only hope I can be able to take advantage of it someday. I won’t hide my own selfishness, I want to be one of those people.
Deaf people get gene tweak to restore natural hearing
People who have lost their hearing will be injected with a harmless virus carrying a gene that should trigger the regrowth of their ears’ sensory receptors
IN TWO months’ time, a group of profoundly deaf people could be able to hear again, thanks to the world’s first gene therapy trial for deafness.
The volunteers, who lost their hearing through damage or disease, will get an injection of a harmless virus containing a gene that should trigger the regrowth of the sensory receptors in the ear.
The idea is that the method will return a more natural sense of hearing than other technologies can provide. Hearing aids merely amplify sounds, while cochlear implants transform sound waves into electrical waves that the brain interprets, but they don’t pick up all of the natural frequencies. This means people can find it difficult to distinguish many of the nuances in voices and music.
“The holy grail is to give people natural hearing back,” says Hinrich Staecker at the University of Kansas Medical Center, who is leading the trial. “That’s what we hope to do – we are essentially repairing the ear rather than artificially imitating what it does.”
There are still many things we don’t know about how the ear works. This is because the delicate machinery of the inner ear is enclosed in the hardest bone in the body, making it difficult to isolate without causing damage.
What we do know is that sound waves are funnelled into the ear, making the ear drum vibrate. These vibrations are transferred to the cochlea in the inner ear via three tiny bones. Thousands of sensory receptors line a part of the cochlea called the organ of Corti, as rows of inner and outer hair cells. Sound waves, amplified by the outer hair cells (shown above right), vibrate the inner hair cells, opening ion channels on their surface that let neurotransmitters flow in. This triggers electrical activity in the cochlear neurons, passing the information to the brain so it can be processed.
Both inner and outer hair cells can be damaged by loud noises, drugs such as some antibiotics and disease, and don’t regrow. A possible fix arose in 2003, when researchers discovered that certain genes can transform the cells supporting the hair cells into both types of hair cell.
Complete story here.