Developing a BIOLOGICAL Cure for Deafness
That’s right people, it’s not just a cochlear implant. This is a bonafide biological rectification of deafness. True, this gene therapy has only been tested on guinea pigs, but it has promising prospects for future human implementation. This therapy includes the regrowth of crucial hair cells in the cochlea, the part of the inner ear which registers sound (currently it is stimulated by an implant in current hearing devices).
After the application of this treatment, sensory electrodes around the animals’ heads show that the auditory nerves of treated – but not untreated – animals were now registering sound. While human treatment is still far off, scientists say one future possibility would be to use the therapy to improve hearing in people who already wear cochlear implants. These electrical devices are of some help to people lacking hair cells, but the regrowth of even some hairs could boost their hearing further. Researchers say that the next experiments in guinea pigs will focus on this combination. However, there are many obstacles to overcome before the procedure can be used in people, primarily, the scala media buried deep within human skulls, making it virtually inaccessible by surgery. And of course, it’s also possible that the human immune system would react against the virus or reject it all together. Of course, where one problem presents itself, another solution arises: namely stem cells. One approach hypothesized in regrowing hair cells is to use embryonic stem cells. Controversial of course, but there it is. Current research is being done on stem cells for a “deafness cure” at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. The exciting bottom line here is that there are now at least two possibilites for the development of a biological cure to human deafness. It’s highly likely that both approaches or a combination of the two will be developed into clinics and clinical trials within the next decade.
If you want to learn more, here’s a link to a more in depth summary/analysis.