Gene Therapy Cochlear Implant Could Bring Hearing Back To The Deaf

A new implant that helped regrow the auditory nerves of a guinea pig, may be tested on humans.

Scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have developed a way to deliver gene therapy to the inner parts of the ear of a guinea pig and the treatment helped regrow the subject’s auditory nerves.

The researchers used a special cochlear implant to deliver electrical impulses to the surrounding cells to deliver localized gene therapy. The treatment helped cells produce a protein called neurotrophin which causes auditory nerve endings to regenerate. The procedure could pave the way to help people regain their hearing and potentially make the need for hearing aids unnecessary.

The study was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The research is supported by Cochlear Limited through an Australian Research Council Linkage Project grant and has been in development for five years.

The study focuses on regenerating nerves that have survived non-genetic hearing loss by using existing cochlear technology. The special cochlear implants have been found “efficient” in delivering gene therapy in the guinea pigs when electrical impulses are administered during the treatment.

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According to UNSW Professor Gary Housley, Director of the Translational Neuroscience Facility at UNSW Medicine and senior author of the study, people with cochlear implants understand speech well, but have trouble with pitch, affecting their ability to appreciate music. Professor Housley and his team hopes that the research can help people who use cochlear implants enjoy a broader range of tones and pitch.

In the team’s experiments, the neurotrophin production stopped after a few months, but, according to Housley, the changes in the auditory nerve may be maintained by neural activity generated by the cochlear implant.

The technology can also be potentially integrated into other “bionic” devices that can be used to deliver gene therapy of complex neurological disorders. Associate Professor Matthias Klugmann, co-author of the study, says the technology “provides a novel platform for safe and efficient gene transfer into tissues as delicate as the brain.”

UNSW
[h/y] The Verge
Header Image: Photos by Mavis

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