Gene therapy allows deaf mice to hear: study

2017-02-08 05:37
(iStock)

(iStock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - Gene therapy delivered by a benign virus enabled deaf lab mice to hear for the first time, researchers say, offering hope to people with genetic hearing impairments.

The breakthrough could pave the way for gene-based treatments, they reported in two studies, published in Nature Biotechnology.

"With more than 100 genes already known to cause deafness in humans, there are many patients who may eventually benefit from this technology," said Konstantina Stankovic, a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Genetic hearing disorders affect about 125 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

Inner hair cells

An expert not involved in the research welcomed the findings as "very encouraging", but cautioned the technique has yet to be proven safe and that human trials are likely years away.

In the first study, Stankovic and colleagues used a harmless virus to transport - deep into the mouse ear - a gene that can fix a specific form of hereditary deafness.

Previous attempts had failed, but this time the viral package was delivered to the right address: the so-called outer hair cells that "tune" the inner ear to sound waves.

"Outer hair cells amplify sound, allowing inner hair cells to send a stronger signal to the brain," explained Gwenaelle Geleoc, a researcher at the FM Kirby Neurobiology Centre at Boston Children's Hospital.

The technique bestowed hearing and balance "to a level that's never been achieved before," she said in a statement.

"Now you can whisper and the mice can hear you."

Human conversation

In the second study, a team led by Geleoc used the same viral courier to treat mice with a mutated gene responsible for Usher syndrome, a rare childhood genetic disease that causes deafness, loss of balance, and in some cases blindness.

The virus carried a normal version of the same gene to damaged ear hair cells soon after the mice were born.

The results far exceeded anything to date: 19 of 25 treated mice heard sounds quieter than 80 decibels. Normal human conversation is about 70 decibels.

A few of the mice could hear sounds as soft as 25 to 30 decibels - roughly equivalent to whispering.

According to Margaret Kenna, a specialist in genetic hearing loss at Boston Children's Hospital not involved in the studies, "cochlear implants are great, but your own hearing is better."

Electronic implants work by bypassing damaged hair cells in the ear to send sound signals directly to the brain.

Child is born

"Anything that could stabilise or improve native hearing at an early age would give a huge boost to a child's ability to learn and use spoken language," she said.

The need for early intervention, however, could be a problem in itself, other experts pointed out.

In humans, such an intervention would ideally have to happen before a child is born, said Jonathan Ashmore, a professor at University College London's Ear Institute.

Alan Boyd, president of Britain's Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine hailed "a very encouraging result.

"But it is only a mouse model," he cautioned, noting that it is still unknown how the human immune system might react.

Any gene deafness treatment is "at least three years away, if not more," Boyd conjectured.

Read more on:    who  |  france

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Man scores date with tennis superstar after Twitter bet

It’s a modern day Cinderella story, but one American man took ‘shoot your shot’ seriously in 2017.

 
 

You won't want to miss...

6 myths about male cancer
Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
5 top leg exercises for men
Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.