Advancements In Genetic Research Are Helping Us Learn More About Deafness

3D illustration of a method of DNA sequencing.

Hearing loss is a public health concern worldwide, and the life-changing effects of deafness are a problem for many individuals within our society.  There was a time when deafness would confine a person to live a life in total silence. However, the future is promising for deaf people. American Sign Language (ASL) enables people to communicate, and technological advances are making life easier for deaf people. Now, genetic research is leading the way in the search for a cure for deafness.

Benefits of Genetic Research

The benefits of genetic research are numerous and can help improve the health of the general public. Genetics provides medicine with multiple life-changing tools including:

  • The ability to improve the diagnosis of a disease.
  • Detect genetic predispositions for a disease.
  • Create drugs based on the genetic information.

If deafness runs in your family, or if you are deaf, genetic information can be helpful for:

  • Determining the chances of having a child that is deaf.
  • Genetic research can help to identify the cause of your deafness.
  • Genetic information may identify other conditions that accompany deafness.

Now, thanks to research from Tel Aviv University genetic research is laying the groundwork for a cure for deafness.

The Study

The Israeli research focuses on the function of small molecules known as microRNAs in the inner ears of mice. The breakthrough findings may lead to the cure of human deafness in adults caused by aging, disease, drugs, noise exposure, or genetic disease in children. A healthy baby is born with 15,000 sensory hair cells in each ear that enables the newborn to hear. These cells translate sound into electrical pulses which the brain can interpret. When the cells die off, a hearing disability results. If all of the cells are gone, deafness occurs. Finding the mechanism in which this cell death occurs might make it possible to prevent it.

The Method

MicroRNAs are involved with diseases such as cancer, liver and cardiovascular disorders. They play a significant role in every part of a cell and can already predict the type of cancer a person has. The team blocked the functioning of microRNA in the inner ears of mice preventing the creation of protein causing prevention of hearing in the mice. The lack of microRNA leads to progressive hearing loss. Needless to say that strategies are developing to insert these molecules into cells to create new drugs and potential cures for disease. The study on mice, which have similar structure and function as those of humans, may pave the way for a treatment for all types of deafness whether age-related or genetic.

The Future

Now that we see deafness in mice prevented with the use of gene editing, the future of treating genetic hearing loss is wide open. It promises that a cure for hereditary deafness in people is closer than ever before. These new gene editing tools can lead to a new class of therapies that target the underlying problem of deafness and give hope to those who are deaf.

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