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Australian Scientists have found a way to use electric pulses as a form of gene therapy in order to regenerate auditory nerves.

Hearing Loss and Gene Therapy

In an attempt to further the capabilities and efficiency of cochlear implant use, researchers have designed implants that can induce gene therapy for damaged or non-functioning inner ear cells.

This amazing study was done at the University of South Wales, Australia by the Translational Neuroscience Facility research group and was supplemented by Cochlear Limited, which provided the research group with an Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant.

Professor Gary Housley, senior author of the research paper and Director of the Translational Neuroscience Facility, notes that cochlear implants lacking therapeutic qualities can be ineffective in allowing users to distinguish between different pitches.

The gene therapy works by implanting electrodes very close to auditory cells, which can then be stimulated by the electric pulses. These cells then produce neutrophins, proteins that stimulate the growth, maintenance and maturation of neurons.

Neutrophin proteins also play a role in the maintenance of neurons after brain injuries or diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, this new form of therapy could also provide potential benefits for people with illnesses such as Parkinson’s Disease and depression.

Although neutrophins have long been known to play a role in neuron preservation, the drug treatments and virus-based gene therapy that use these proteins have proved to be inefficient and potentially harmful.

Professor Housley notes that continued research would help hearing-impaired individuals to perceive a greater quality and range of tones, allowing wearers to have better reception for complex elements such as music.

The neutrophin production and regenerative effects of a gene therapy session decline after a couple of months, but Housley notes that the improvements to the hearing nerve can be maintained if the user continues to use the cochlear implants.

Matthias Klugmann, coauthor of the study and Associate Professor at the University of South Wales, notes that these findings can extend to studies well beyond hearing loss treatment. Neutrophins come in many varieties and interact with numerous cell types that are found in the brain, meaning they can aid in enhancing parts of the brain that are not associated with hearing.

Hearing Loss and New Technology

Other forms of hearing aids that use electric signals include electric cochlear implants, devices that send electric signals to the auditory nerve fibers found in the ear. Created by researchers at MIT’s Microsystem’s Technology Laboratory, these hearing aid devices rely on sensors that produce an electric charge when placed under pressure.

Similar new findings include the recent research of regenerative proteins derived from chickens as a possible hearing aid alternative. The chemicals that are normally produced in the inner ear cells of chickens and other vertebrates can regenerate the inner ear cells found in humans after noise-induced hearing loss.

These evolving forms of technology can result in limited use or complete replacement of hearing aids by gene therapy and vaccinations.

by Aaron Rodriques