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Drug Companies Using Gene Therapy to Cure Hearing Loss

by April Maguire

Hearing loss is one of the most common ailments on the planet. Currently, nearly 50 million people in the United States alone suffer from a noticeable degree of hearing loss. Experts warn that these numbers are only going to climb in the near future, driven in large part by the millions of Millennials who are going to prematurely lose their hearing due to exposure to loud music from personal listening devices.

Unfortunately, once it's gone, it's virtually impossible to get your hearing back. And given the negative stigma associated with hearing aids, drug companies are banking on the fact that an alternative solution to hearing loss would rake in big bucks. As a result, companies are currently exploring a number of different solutions for restoring hearing.

Reactivating Hearing Cells

One company that is leading this charge is Novartis in Switzerland. Their technique for restoring hearing revolves around gene therapy. For Novartis' method, a modified virus is used to delivery a copy of a gene known as Atonal 1. This gene tells cells within the inner ear to convert into the types of hair cells that allow you to take in auditory information, restoring your hearing.

Another technique, developed by Auris Medical Holding AG and San Diego-based Otonomy Inc, involves using a liquid drug that is injected through the eardrum and into the inner ear. The goal is for these drugs to restore the function of these cells within the inner ear, particularly in individuals who are suffering from sudden-onset hearing loss.

Finally, another company called Startup Frequency Therapeutics is making use of the body's natural ability to create hair-like hearing cells. For this technique, scientists activate stems cells within the cochlea. The reasoning is that since the body created these cells once before, it can do it again. Although this method could work for people who have lost their hearing, it's unlikely to be successful in people who were born deaf.

Not So Simple

While all of these methods could restore hearing in theory, so far the trials haven't proven to be particularly successful. Accordingly, experts caution that the science behind these techniques is still new, and subsequent testing and research will need to be done before they can be widely implemented to hearing loss sufferers.

Despite these challenges, there is no question that drug companies are going to continue to perform research in this area. In total, the market for an alternative hearing loss solution could be anywhere from $500 to $750 million dollars annually. With that kind of financial upside, it's only a matter of time before someone discovers an innovative solution to hearing loss.

If you or someone you know would like more information about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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