Posted on 04/02/2013

Could a Genetic Patch Cure Deafness?

Could a Genetic Patch Cure Deafness?

Fixing deafness with a genetic patch

Research into deafness has been making significant advances in recent years, with a range of innovative new ideas, from stem cells to modified viruses, all showing promising signs. And another new treatment was announced this week in the journal Nature Medicine.

One of the major causes of deafness in younger people is hereditary conditions, such as Usher syndrome. These conditions can cause defects in the ears, or prevent them from developing properly in the first place. In the case of Usher syndrome, the defect blocks the building of the proteins that are needed to create the ear cell hairs that detect sound vibrations.

In the new study, researchers inserted a genetic patch into the DNA of new born mice within a few days of birth, and saw ‘profound effects’ on their hearing development. However, one problem with this approach may lie in the fact that humans spend far longer in the womb than mice and so develop much more before birth. This could mean that any new genetic patch treatment may need to be inserted in utero in humans, involving considerable risk to the unborn baby.

Naturally, much more research is needed before the treatment can be applied to humans, but the researchers were encouraged by the results. “Humans are going to be the next hurdle, but it looks really promising,” said Professor Michelle Hastings who led the research. It is hoped that genetic patch treatments of this kind may also have the potential to treat hereditary blindness.

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