todayMay 22, 2023 2025 550 5
Scientists believe they have discovered a potentially “groundbreaking” solution to hearing loss, which could regenerate the hair cells within our ears.
A team of experts at Harvard Medical School, led by Dr. Zheng-Yi Chen, have found a way to utilise “small interfering RNAs” (siRNAs) — drug-like molecules that interfere with the expression of genes — to successfully regenerate cochlear hair cells in mice by “reprogramming” genetic pathways in the ear.
Cochlear hair cells are a group of tiny hairs within the inner-ear that act as our ear’s “sensory” organ — enabling us to hear.
While birds, fish and reptiles can regenerate these cells after going deaf, mammals cannot — which means that hearing loss tends to be permanent.
The majority of hearing loss in humans occurs due to cochlear cells being damaged due to factors such as wear and tear from old age or from overexposure to loud noises, such as loud music.
However, these new findings – published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal – could mean that the pathways that enable regeneration could be successfully activated in humans.
“These findings are extremely exciting because throughout the history of the hearing loss field, the ability to regenerate hair cells in an inner ear has been the holy grail,” said Zheng-Yi Chen, an HMS associate professor, in a statement.
“Think about a brake when driving a car,” Chen explained. “If the brake is always engaged, you can’t drive. We found an siRNA that could remove the brake in this genetic pathway.”
Chen’s team now believe that the method could lay the groundwork for trials in larger animals, and potentially humans in the future. “We now have a drug-like cocktail that shows the feasibility of an approach that we can explore for future clinical applications,” says Chen.
Despite initial success in trials with mice, the response of siRNA therapy in mammals remains a work-in-progress — with many experiments that have resulted in successful applications in other mammals have failed to show the same benefit in humans.
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