One in a thousand children in the United States is deaf, and one in three adults will experience significant hearing loss after the age of 65. Whether the result of genetic or environmental factors, hearing loss costs billions of dollars in healthcare expenses every year, making the search for a cure critical.
Now a team of researchers led by Karen B. Avraham of the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Yehoash Raphael of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at University of Michigan’s Kresge Hearing Research Institute have discovered that using DNA as a drug — commonly called gene therapy — in laboratory mice may protect the inner ear nerve cells of humans suffering from certain types of progressive hearing loss.
In the study, doctoral student Shaked Shivatzki created a mouse population possessing the gene that produces the most prevalent form of hearing loss in humans: the mutated connexin 26 gene. Some 30 percent of American children born deaf have this form of the gene. Because of its prevalence and the inexpensive tests available to identify it, there is a great desire to find a cure or therapy to treat it.
The research team is currently working on finding better “vehicles” for the corrected gene, such as finding more suitable viruses to transport the injected gene to the appropriate place in the inner ear. The study was supported by grants from the NIDCD of the National Institutes of Health and I-CORE Gene Regulation in Complex Human Disease.