Hearing Aids and Assistive Listening Devices aren’t the only areas of hearing health evolving. Medical breakthroughs in restorative hearing have been occurring at a quickening pace recently, and are providing much hope for the next few years in the treatment of hearing loss.
Hearing loss has become a major topic of discussion since the development of the modern Behind The Ear (BTE) hearing aid. As hearing aids become smaller and smaller, the willingness to talk about and accept hearing solutions has become greater. Yet, we continue to live in a time when the exposure to noise-induced hearing loss risks continues to be greater and greater it.
Despite the breadth of information about the dangers of noise-induced hearing loss, some hearing loss is inevitable, especially as we age. Exposure to loud noises whether it be city traffic, construction, loud offices, parties, sporting events, or yard work, can slowly whittle away at the inner ear’s ability to function over time.
Medical Approach To Hearing Loss
That’s where the medical breakthroughs come into play. The part of the inner ear responsible for transferring acoustic sound into nerve signals to send to the brain is the cochlea. This layered spiral organ contains tiny hairlike cells called cilia that are responsible for detecting the sound vibrations coming from the middle ear.
Exposure to noise louder than 85 decibels slowly destroys a great number of these cells until hearing loss is incurred. Several different laboratories and research institutions have been underway in the last decade experimenting with different medical restorative solutions.
University of Iowa
A small molecular drug has been shown to preserve hearing in mice with an inherited progressive human deafness. A study being conducted by investigators at the University of Iowa and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) that stems from decades of research has been able to isolate a deafness-causing genetic mutation.
These researchers discovered key pieces of information about the genetic mutation that acted as a switch in sensory hair cells. By “using small-molecule drugs that inhibit this process” researchers were able to partially restore hearing.
In Massachusetts, Frequency Therapeutics, founded by biomedical engineers Bob Langer and Jeffrey Karp have been working on developing small molecule drugs that regenerate cochlear tissue. While they have been able to grow the tissue outside the body, they are now working on ways to regenerate the tissue where it’s most needed – inside the cochlea of the inner ear.
Frequency has been successful with Phase 1 of their FX-322 (their lead progenitor cell activation drug) human study, and the team plans to start Phase 2 of the clinical study in the latter part of this year.
Other firms also working on medical therapies to address hearing loss include Auris Medical, a Swiss biopharmaceutical firm, Otonomy based in San Diego, and Decibel Therapeutics. With consistent research and progress from the above firms and many more, the answer to the question of whether it’s possible to treat sensorineural hearing loss with molecular drug therapy is only a matter of time.