man experiencing hearing loss

Hearing loss is a common issue, and stereotype, for us as we age.  However, there may be good news on the horizon.  A team of Harvard Medical School scientists say they have come up with a new drug that can successfully regenerate the hair cells of your inner ear.  Those hairs have been compared to miniature microphones, and they are responsible for passing sound signals to the brain. 

The results of the study were presented in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  According to the article, scientists have been able to regrow hair cells in mice by reprograming genetic pathways. This is the first step in a process they hope will lead to clinical trials of treatments for people with mild to severe hearing loss.

Research team leader, Zheng-Yi Chen said, “These findings are extremely exciting because throughout the history of the hearing loss, the ability to regenerate hair cells in an inner ear has been the holy grail.”  He noted that certain fish, birds, and reptiles can regenerate hair cells, but that people cannot. The study, however, provides hope that researchers may soon find a way to re-grow certain hairs.

The research relied on activating pathways by using newly developed chemicals, specifically, “small interfering RNA” (siRNAs). In this way, they were able to remove genes that suppressed mice’s ability to grow inner ear hair cells. Chen puts it this way, “We found a siRNA that could remove the brake in the genetic pathway” that was stopping hair growth.

While the scientists have only had success with mice, the team plans to try the procedures in larger animals before testing it on humans.  So, unfortunately for those with hearing loss, there is no place you can go to participate in the studies yet – which Chen said is a frequent request. Their goal, however, is to combine a surgical procedure with a gene therapy delivery method that can be brought into local clinics. While that may be years away, it is exciting news and certainly good to hear!

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