Gene Therapy - A guide to Hearing Loss

This, along with stem cell research and new types of drugs are being researched to see if they hold out promise of a cure for deafness.

They are seen as a possible answer to the problem of damaged hair cells and/or nerves within the ear which are responsible for our ability to hear. These hair cells are extremely delicate structures that line the cochlea and help to transmit sound waves to the brain.

But if they become damaged or die then this function is greatly impaired which results in hearing loss.

Gene therapy and hearing loss

Gene therapy is a form of treatment which is based upon the idea of replacing a faulty gene cell with a copy of a healthy gene cell. This could also apply to those cells which lack a copy of this gene.

This is basically a system in which the damaged gene is replaced by a healthy one. Doing this would enable those previously faulty cells to function as normal. So how would this apply to hearing loss?

The cochlea contains numerous hair cells which are responsible for the detection and transmission of sound waves from the ear to the brain. These hair cells can’t regenerate themselves if damaged or new ones grow if destroyed.

However, there are cells that lie next to these, within the tissues of the cochlea, which can regenerate themselves. Plus there is one particular gene which acts as a ‘switch’ and enables healthy ear cells to divide and transform into hair cells. If this gene could be introduced into the cochlea in some way that it could trigger these healthy hair cells to divide and become hair cells then this could restore hearing in a person who is currently deaf.

This is the theory at present. Gene therapy like stem cell research has attracted a great deal of controversy in regard to ethical and moral issues and continues to do so.

Treatments : A guide to Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss

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