According to a recent study by USC and Harvard researchers, we now have new hope in hearing restoration on a molecular level. This is promising news given that in the next forty years as our population ages, hearing loss due to aging is expected to skyrocket.
Sensorineural hearing loss comes as a result of damage incurred by the tiny hairlike cells inside the cochlea that are responsible for converting received sound waves into auditory signals for the brain to process. These hairlike structures called cilia cannot be repaired once they are damaged. That is – until now.
The Science Of Cell Repair
According to an April 2018 article published in Science Daily, scientists at USC and Harvard have found a way to deliver critical drugs in a way that allows the cells to be repaired. Up until this point delivery to the cochlea was very difficult. According to study author Charles E. McKenna cited in the article, “Inside this part of the ear there’s fluid constantly flowing that would sweep dissolved drugs away, but our new approach addresses that problem. This is a first for hearing loss and the ear. It’s also important because it may be adaptable for other drugs that need to be applied within the inner ear.”
This research shows great promise for the way we treat sensorineural hearing loss, but the work is still in its infancy. The current set of research was performed on animal tissues in a laboratory setting. It has yet to be tested on humans, or live animals for that matter. However, since the testing was so successful, the implications for success in human patients is quite promising.
How It Works
This particular drug delivery method is directed specifically at the cochlea, a difficult organ to target because of its location deep within the ear. While molecular level medicine has been developed, getting that medicine to the cochlea has been the biggest challenge.
This delivery method comes in the form of a molecule joining 7,8 dihydroxyflavone and bisphosphonate. The dihydroxyflavone is the chemical that mimics the naturally occurring protein that is important for developing cells of the nervous system. Bisphosphonate is a chemical that sticks to the bones allowing the drug to stay in the cochlea long enough for the dihydroxyflavone to do its work.
More Work To Be Done
Researchers can’t say right now if this drug and delivery method is definitively a cure to treat hearing loss. But scientists are very hopeful about future research and trials to test their process in live animals and humans. This is just one of many pieces of work that has evolved out of USC’s program for biomedicine and their USC Michelson Center for Convergent BioScience.
Implications For The Future
An estimated two-thirds of our citizens over the age of 70 live with some degree of hearing loss. As we are living longer, the need to address hearing loss becomes more important, especially since moderate to severe hearing loss is so closely linked to dementia. This new discovery by USC and Harvard researchers could significantly improve the quality of life for senior citizens now and for years to come in addition people of any age who have developed hearing loss.