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Scientists Discover New Genes Linked to Hearing Loss

by April Maguire

All hearing loss isn't created equally. That's because a number of different factors can cause people to lose their hearing. For example, one of the biggest causes of hearing loss is exposure to excessive noise, which destroys the tiny hair cells in the inner ear, resulting in deafness. But this kind of physical, noise-induced hearing loss is just one type of this debilitating disorder. Oftentimes, people lose their hearing as a result of genetics, and that's why it's important for scientists to discover which genes are responsible.

Fortunately, hearing loss scientists just got a big boost thanks to a new reach study from the Medical Research Council. According to the study, researchers found that 52 genes were linked to hearing loss, even though no previous linkage was known to exist. This information will be critical to scientists moving forward as they try to find a ways to prevent and treat hearing loss. So how were these new genes identified?

Turning Genes On and Off

For the study, the researchers used what are called "knock-out" mice. These furry little test subjects have one specific gene from their genome deactivated, or knocked out. Once that gene is switched off, scientists can see what effects, if any, it has on the mouse's ability to function. In this case, the scientists subjected the mice to hearing tests, ultimately studying more than 3,000 different genes. In the end, the team identified 67 different genes that were, in one way or another, linked to hearing ability. Of these genes, 52 of them had never been linked to hearing loss before.

While 3,000 may sound like a lot of genes, that number reportedly only represents around 15% of the genes found in mice. That means that there are still tens of thousands of genes that could have some connection to hearing loss. In fact, the researchers estimate that, when all is said and done, they expect to find upwards of 450 genes that are tied in some way to hearing.

Ultimately, the goal with all of this research is to better establish how genetic hearing loss occurs. Once all of the genetic markers are identified, scientists can determine how strongly they impact a person's ability to hear, as well as how the faults in the auditory system are created. From all that information, hearing loss specialists can learn how to better detect hearing loss at earlier stages and devise more effective means of treatment.

If you or someone else you know would like to learn more 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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