Scientists May Have Found A Solution For Hearing Loss


If you’ve lost some of your hearing over time — either because you spend your time around loud machinery, love setting off explosives, or you’re just getting older — we have good news. Scientists from the University of Michigan have been working with Harvard University to restore hearing to lab mice.

I’ve discovered that lots of people don’t really understand hearing loss / deafness; for some reason, they have trouble conceptualizing it as something similar to having poor eyesight / blindness. Generally the misconception is that deaf people are also mentally disabled, which is totally untrue. Being hearing impaired can happen for several reasons, but the hearing loss we experience as we age, called sensorineural hearing loss, comprises 80% of adults that are hearing impaired. Sensorineural hearing loss happens when the sensory receptors between the hairs in our inner ear, and the nerves that send that information to the brain, have been damaged.

These receptors are called ribbon synapses, and they look like this:

The blue is the hair on the inner ear; the green is nerve cells. The red dots are the ribbon synapses. It’s kind of breathtaking to see how delicate our bodies are sometimes. If those teeny red specks are injured somehow, we lose one of our most important senses. BIOLOGY IS FASCINATING, GRRR, FOOTBALL.

The U of M / Harvard study aimed to regenerate the damaged ribbon synapses. First they had to cause hearing damage to the mice. (I hope this happened by playing Sepultura really loudly. Rock out, little mouse dudes.) After the synapses were destroyed, the science bros activated the genes in the inner ear cells that produce Neurotrophin-3, or NT3. NT3 is a protein important to the production of the ribbon synapses, and after only two weeks, the extra production of NT3 in the treated mice caused way more hearing recovery than in the control group.

That’s pretty exciting, because now they have an idea for how to treat the most common type of hearing loss in adults with drug therapy. Lead scientist Dr. Gabriel Corfas is hoping to develop treatments for humans next. It’s unknown whether the same solution could be used to reverse complete hearing loss, but the idea that a pharmaceutical cure could be just a few years away is very exciting.

Via Gizmag and eLife.