An unexpected doorway to the ear opens new possibilities for hearing restoration

Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Last month, the University of Rochester reported on research done at its Center for Translational Neuromedicine and at the University of Copenhagen that may provide a new way to deliver medication to the cochlea, or the inner ear. Noise damages and eventually kills cochlear hair cells, the basic sensory organ for hearing. Delivering any medication to the cochlea, including gene therapies that might regrow cochlear hair cells, is difficult because the cochlea is tiny (about the size of a pea) and buried deep within the hard temporal bone of the skull. Researchers were able to use the cochlear aqueduct, a thin bony channel no larger than a single strand of hair, to deliver gene therapy to the cochleas of adult mice.

Some animals, including chickens, can regrow cochlear hair cells, but mammals cannot. The gene therapy was able to restore hearing in deaf adult mice. Of course, translating this success to humans remains years, or decades, away.

I hope this discovery eventually leads to a successful treatment for hearing loss. Most hearing loss in adult humans is caused by noise exposure. My interest is in prevention of noise-induced hearing loss, not in treatment. Noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that is 100% preventable.

Avoid loud noise. Turn down the volume. Leave the noisy environment or use hearing protection. Because if it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.

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