DNA therapy a lead in new hearing loss discovery

A new discovery made by specialists at Tel Aviv University could have a significant impact into the field of hearing loss.  Researchers have demonstrated improved cochlear implant functionality in field mice through the use of DNA therapy.

Using DNA as a drug – a technique that’s commonly referred to as gene therapy – in lab mice, the team were able to increase protection levels of the inner ear nerve cells.  Because mice share 80 per cent similar genes to humans, the implication is that a similar technique could be used to treat people suffering from hearing loss, especially the sort that becomes progressively worse with time.

Hearing loss affects hundreds of people around the world, with cases varying widely and people dealing with the affliction differently.

Professor Karen B. Avraham from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, said:

"We tried to figure out why the mouse was losing cells that enable it to hear. Why did it lose its hearing? The collaborative work allowed us to provide gene therapy to reverse the loss of nerve cells in the ears of these deaf mice."

Working alongside Yehoash Raphael from the University of Michigan and doctoral student Shaked Shivatzki, Professor Avraham created a mouse population possessing the gene known as connexion 26: the cause of the most prevalent form of hearing loss (30 per cent of American children born deaf have the gene, and mice possessing it have already shown deterioration in the nerves responsible for sending sound signals to the brain).

The researchers discovered that a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a BDNF) could potentially be used to block the deterioration associated with the gene.  Once this was concluded, the team were able to engineer a virus capable of being tolerated by the body without causing disease, and insert this growth factor into the virus itself.  From there, the researchers were able to surgically inject the virus directly into the ears of the mice.  Results showed that the neurons of the inner ear were ‘blocked’ from degeneration by the process. 

Professor Avraham noted that there was “an almost unanimous interest in finding the genes responsible for hearing loss.”

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