While we typically address preventative measures for accident-induced hearing loss, it should be noted that nearly half of cases have a genetic root that – until recently – was seemingly unavoidable. That being said, a major medical breakthrough from December 2017 could have large-scale implications for the hearing industry moving forward, as research seeks to prove that gene carriers with hearing loss on the horizon could ideally have the unhealthy gene deleted to avoid its onset.
It Started with a Study
Researchers first tested genome editing on mice to infer that just one injection of a gene editing cocktail prevented the progression of deafness. The study, which was first published in the Nature journal, was centred around a mutation gene called Tmc1 – a single wrong letter in the genetic code – that incites the loss of inner-ear hair cells.
Why is ear hair so important?
While it may just seem gross, a little scruff in the ears is actually incredibly significant to the health of the whole system. Growing within a spiral-shaped organ known as the cochlea, the hairs’ function is to vibrate in response to sound waves. This physical motion then transmits the waves to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.
Implications for the future
Unfortunately, children born with one copy of the mutated Tmc1 gene are destined to be diagnosed with progressive hearing loss later in life. This typically begins much earlier than expected – within the first decade of one’s existence – and can result in total deafness 10-15 years later. Luckily, most people are also born with a healthy version of the gene, which scientists believe will reign supreme if they delete the unhealthy version from the person’s genetic makeup. “We hope that the work will one day inform the development of a cure for certain forms of genetic deafness in people,” said Prof David Liu, who led the work at Harvard University and MIT.
What can you do?
If you’re concerned hearing loss may run in your family, it’s good to pay attention to these types of studies and test your children or yourself for the gene as early as possible. While the research hasn’t yet been applied to humans, Liu’s team is moving quickly and furiously to begin testing on larger animals within the next two years. From there, assuming all is safe and effective, they’ll integrate it into human tests and eventually (hopefully) patient treatment plans. As always, avoiding environmental factors that may speed up the hearing loss process (overexposure to loud sounds, overuse of earbuds, head injuries, etc.) should always been a priority. Also, taking steps to protect your precious ear hairs is important. This includes not smoking, which constricts the blood flow to hair follicles within the ears.