A cure for hearing loss could be in the pipeline, researchers hope on the back of a new breakthrough.
A scientific trial, branded ‘extremely promising’, has uncovered a new way to repair damaged cells deep inside the ear.
Experts at Harvard and the University of Southern California made the discovery after testing animal tissues in the lab.
Scientists have been trying for decades to find a cure for hearing loss, which strikes around one in five people in the UK and US.
A scientific trial, branded ‘extremely promising’, has uncovered a new way to repair damaged vital cells deep inside the ear
Fragile hair cells in the cochlea – an inner-ear structure that conveys sound to the brain – break down over time and can lead to hearing loss.
But a major stumbling block in the human anatomy means any dissolved drugs to try and regenerate cells are swept away by fluid sitting deep in the ear.
The new way of delivering drugs, created by Professor Charles Mckenna, addresses that problem.
They found a way of piggybacking a drug to regenerate the crucial cells. Professor McKenna said: ‘This is a first for hearing loss and the ear.
‘It is also important because it may be adaptable for other drugs that need to be applied within the inner ear.
The researchers created a new way of getting drugs to reach the cochlea, an inner-ear structure that receives sounds in the form of vibrations
‘We are not saying it is a cure for hearing loss. It is a proof of principle for a new approach that is extremely promising.’
Professor McKenna, chemistry professor at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, added: ‘It is an important step that offers a lot of hope.’
The researchers created a new way of getting drugs to reach the cochlea, an inner-ear structure that receives sounds in the form of vibrations.
It is full of tiny hair-like sensory cells, which are crucial to detecting sound waves. They do not regenerate – and they wear away over time.
But the method of delivering medication regenerated synapses in mouse ear tissue that led to the repair of the fragile hair cells and neurons.
The experts combined 7,8-dihydroxyflavone, which mimics a protein critical for the development of the body, and bisphosphonate – which sticks to bones.
The findings were published in the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry.
Professor McKenna and colleagues believe their new mechanism will work in living animals and humans and plan to test their theory soon.
The study follows an Italian trial that found hearing problems could be a warning sign for memory loss in older people.
People with hearing loss caused by the brain’s inability to hear sound are twice as likely to suffer forgetfulness, the researchers found.