Hearing loss is an all too common affliction, affecting an astounding 50 million Americans.
However, a recent study offers new hope for those with noise-induced hearing loss. Led by researcher Gabriel Corfas, PhD, a University of Michigan team succeeded in recovering hearing in mice that were partially deafened by loud noises.
Hearing Loss Epidemic
When healthy, the human ear hears frequencies between 20 and 20,000 hertz. Although some loss of hearing occurs as a natural byproduct of the aging process, exposure to loud sounds can cause the hair-like stereocilia in the ear to become damaged, leading to lasting hearing damage. Even a one-time exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss as well as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. One study estimates that 60 percent of Iraq war veterans suffer from hearing loss or tinnitus upon returning.
In the past, doctors had few methods for improving hearing in patients who have suffered damage. However, the new Michigan study offers hope that a method of restoring lost hearing could be on the horizon.
Using conditional gene recombination to activate genes in certain cells, Michigan scientists were able to reestablish a connection between nerve cells and hair cells in the ears of mice suffering from damaged hearing. During the study, Dr. Corfas’ team succeeded in increasing production of NT3 (Neurotrophin-3) in the brains of mice with help from the drug tamoxifen. Mice who underwent NT3 treatment regained their hearing while mice in the control group did not.
Although experiments have only been conducted on mice at this time, the team is cautiously optimistic about the possibility of restoring hearing in human subjects. According to Dr. Corfas, the next step is to determine what role NT3 plays in human ears and locate a medication that can recreate the protein’s effect. The long term goal is to find a drug that patients can take repeatedly until hearing is restored. At this time, Dr. Corfas is not certain if the treatment will be effective on patients who are fully deaf, as the studied mice only suffered from partial hearing loss.
Although the research is in its early phases, NT3 therapy has the potential to improve life for millions of Americans burdened with hearing loss. In the meantime, individuals should take steps to protect their hearing by avoiding exposure to loud noises. Additionally, parents should make sure their children and teenagers undergo regular hearing tests so that any loss can be detected early.
If you 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!